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April 18, 2003

Heartache

A sampling of articles and commentary on the destruction of the antiquities and archives in Baghdad.

"Pillagers Strip Iraqi Museum of Its Treasure" (John F. Burns, NYTimes, April 12, 2003)

A quotation from Raid Abdul Ridhar Muhammad, an Iraqi archaeologist:

"A country's identity, its value and civilization resides in its history," he said. "If a country's civilization is looted, as ours has been here, its history ends. Please tell this to President Bush. Please remind him that he promised to liberate the Iraqi people, but that this is not a liberation, this is a humiliation. If we had stayed under the rule of Saddam Hussein, it would have been much better."
"Ancient archive lost in Baghdad library blaze" (Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian, April 15, 2003)
Almost nothing remains of the library's archive of tens of thousands of manuscripts, books, and Iraqi newspapers, according to reports from the scene.
"Library books, letters and priceless documents are set ablaze in final chapter of the sacking of Baghdad" (Robert Fisk, The Independent, April 15, 2003) A first person account of the looting and burning.
For almost a thousand years, Baghdad was the cultural capital of the Arab world, the most literate population in the Middle East. Genghis Khan's grandson burnt the city in the 13th century and, so it was said, the Tigris river ran black with the ink of books. Yesterday, the black ashes of thousands of ancient documents filled the skies of Iraq. Why?

From the blogosphere, Teresa Nielsen Hayden at Making Light has written a moving response.

It's taken me a while to think about the destruction of Iraq's cultural heritage. This is the land of Mesopotamia, where civilization began, so the looting and destruction of the museum and library, is just devastating. No, it's not the same as loss of life. But this is a dagger in the heart of a nation, a culture - a culture so primary it belongs to the world. But if our troops could be mustered to surround the Ministry of Oil, then even a small contingent to hold back looters could have been enough to keep people from carting off antiquities. But no - we have cultural barbarians for leaders, who can't imagine that 10,000 years of history means anything. For instance, tablets containing Hammurabi's Code, among the earliest artifacts of a civilization's legal code - gone. Are they destroyed? Did some looter in the frenzy of destruction smash the tablets to bits, or smuggle them out for the black market? We may never find out. So much could have been protected, but no - we couldn't be bothered to anticipate that the outbreak of war would lead to chaos and lawlessness in the streets of Baghdad. So now we have to deal with the aftermath, because who cares about looking out for a nation's cultural patrimony when we've got to make sure Iraqi oil flows into American coffers? So much, irretrievably lost.

Yours, &c., LC | 12:01 PM | Librariana