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Crimes Against Culture Are
Remembered Forever
By Philip Hensher
The Independent - UK
4-22-3

The Muslim world will ask why US forces let the looting happen and produce a simple answer: they hate Islam...

The burning of books and the destruction of works of art is so powerful a symbol of barbarism that the stench of it hangs in the air long afterwards: it is something impossible to forgive, impossible to forget. There was an ancient Greek called Herostratus who burned down the Temple of Artemis for the sole reason that he thought that his action would make his name remembered; he was quite right. That sort of action is not easily forgotten.

Such acts of infamy and enormity form a grim historical catalogue. When the Nazis burnt 250,000 books of degenerate tendency in the Opernplatz in Berlin on 10 May 1933, they demonstrated to the world the scale of the wickedness to come. It was truly remarked that those who begin by burning books will end by burning people, and the modern German state has wisely marked this act as belonging among the most horrible of the Third Reich's actions by putting up a moving memorial at the site.

Those who preside over vast cultural losses are not readily forgiven by history. The worst of Henry VIII's excesses was the sacking of the monasteries, with the destruction of an unknowable volume of treasures, and the dissipation or burning of great libraries. Those losses can never be recovered, and an entire culture disappeared in a very few years.

The most celebrated of such acts of vandalism, as every schoolboy used to know, was the destruction of the great library of Alexandria. Traditionally, this was dated to the seventh century, and ascribed to the Caliph Umar; he was always supposed to have said that if the books of the library conformed to the word of God, they were unnecessary; if they contradicted it, they were pernicious; in either case they could be destroyed without further consideration.

The story, of course, is complete rubbish, and Umar almost certainly had nothing to do with the destruction of the library. In reality, the main museum and library were destroyed during the civil war of the third century AD and a subsidiary library was burned by Christians in AD 391. Islam, from its founding, had a respect for learning that greatly exceeded anything to be found in the rulers of Europe and Christendom, who were satisfied to sit around telling ignorant lies about other cultures.

On the weekend of 12 April, as everybody knows, acts of comparable vandalism and cultural loss took place in Baghdad. The Museum of Archaeology was looted in a systematic way, and on a gigantic scale, and the treasures of this ancient civilization lost, some perhaps forever. The National Library and Archives and the library at the Ministry of Religious Endowment were set on fire, and a whole nation's history disappeared in a few hours.

My colleague Robert Fisk reported on this destruction at the time, and it is impossible to add anything to his rage and passion. It is one of the ugliest tragedies of this war, and there is no doubt whatever that, even though the Americans did not carry out the looting and burning themselves, they stood aside with complete indifference and allowed it to take place. They simply did not care, and these acts, which will not soon be forgotten, will be laid at their door as evidence of their indifference to this culture, and their inconceivable arrogance.

I thought this war justified, until this evidence that it was being conducted in an improper and uncaring way. It would not have been hard to foresee that law and order would have been difficult to maintain in the wake of the collapse of the Iraqi regime, and it would have been quite proper for American troops to have shot looters in these circumstances. That is what war consists of, and it would have saved a culture from this catastrophe.

Not everyone accepts this, and my colleague Johann Hari the other day put the case for looting in celebratory tones. "The war took three weeks and the anarchy will last a fortnight at most. Weigh that against a certainly far longer period under Saddam and his deranged sons, and I think the choice is a no-brainer... Much of what we have been seeing is a spontaneous redistribution of wealth from the disgusting, corrupt lite who thrived under Saddam towards the wider population."

True, he lamented the "unjustifiable and senseless acts" which took place in "Baghdad's hospitals and museums", but he then argued that "arresting the suspicious and firing guns to protect property rights" was an understandable mistake caused by the "praiseworthy wish of the Allied forces to avoid being seen as oppressive."

That, with respect, is nonsense, and even if it were true, it would hardly address the point that what a fortnight of anarchy can achieve is the destruction of a very large slice of Iraq's culture and history. It is just not true to present this as a necessary "choice", as if the burning of the national archives were an inevitable stage to be gone through before freedom could be attained. It is simply something that the American troops allowed to happen; and the entire Muslim world will be asking why, and producing a simple and incontrovertible answer: they hate Islam; they hold Islamic history and life in complete contempt; they don't believe that there is anything much worth preserving from the country they have "liberated"; and now these ignorant and thuggish new rulers are asking for respect. Well, after that fortnight of listlessly observed anarchy, they will find it very difficult to command. From the point of view of the Muslim world, no-brainer is exactly the word.

There is nothing to be done about the libraries, which are gone, though their destruction will not quickly be forgotten. The contents of the museum, however, may not be permanently lost, though it will be extremely difficult to reconstruct the collection in anything like its previous substance. It seems likely that some of the most important pieces were stolen to order ö there are pieces in the museum that could hardly have been removed by any other means than a forklift truck; and the curators believed that a lot of the most valuable objects were safe in heavily secured basements, which in the event were accessed and ransacked. Some of those pieces may have disappeared for a good long time into private palaces, and though not permanently lost, they may take decades to resurface.

Many pieces, however, may have been lifted in an opportunistic way, to be quickly sold in the region's markets, and a concerted effort now could conceivably do something to repair this gigantic disaster.

Above all, though one shrinks from the proposal, at this point the authorities ought to be working with dealers and collectors of the shadiest variety, trying to track down what can be rescued of the museum's treasures. A lot of it has been destroyed: but a good deal has simply been stolen, and for the moment it still exists.

There is no prospect whatever of restoring the museum's collection to its previous state, and I don't believe that it is in anyone's power to recover more than a tiny proportion of the treasures. The rest of it has quite simply vanished for good. But what we are talking about here is a gesture by the US to show that, despite all previous evidence to the contrary, it does hold Middle Eastern culture in some kind of respect, and is prepared to do something to maintain it. Without that, relations will be defined by the burning of libraries and the looting of museums, and remain beyond repair.

http://argument.independent.co.uk/regular_columnists/philip_hensher/story.jsp?story=399294
 

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i disagree with this article, empire. i'll tell you why. throughout history there have been a host of crimes against cultures and peoples. the babylonians did it. the medo-persians did it. the romans did it. the greeks did it. xtianity has done as well when it set out to evangelize and convert the 'heathens'. are they remembered today? sure they are...but merely as 'facts in point' from a text book...the merging and the melding of cultures and mores have been a reality since time began...and will continue to occur until we no longer exist.
 

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True, DD, true. All the same, this is a terrible tragedy, and it looks like the American forces could have done something to stop it. I think of all the wonderful museums I've visited around the world and imagine what it would be like if one of them were trashed. These places are treasures.
 

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i agree with you joui...i am a lover of history and the arts...and i've been to the baghdad museum so i feel the the huge loss to international academia and to the iraqi people as a whole.

the portion of the article that i took issue with was that it would be remembered this keenly forever. it won't be. we know of the loss to the great alexandraic libraries and the halls of papyrus during cleopatra's time but we don't feel the loss keenly in this generation. we understand that historic conflicts sometimes cause these catastrophic, irreplaceable
tragedies to mankind's notion of civilization.
 

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honestly though? i feel that the coalition forces could have done a lot more to prevent or lessen this tragedy. even before going into iraq they knew of iraq's historical significance. much, much more should have been done.
 

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doesn't change the fact that the Americans could've prevented what was done. They just didn't care to.

However, does it bother anybody that the perpetrators of the lootings of the Iraqi treasures happen to be .... Iraqis? I think the Americans treated the libraries and the museum with the same respect the Iraqi people did.
 

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The guy who wrote this article is a brainless goofball. The Americans made a mistake, a pretty bad one. No need for this dickfor to whine as though they dropped The Bomb on Baghdad.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
i don't believe it was a mistake...after all this happened to a lesser extent during the U.S. bombing's last time...it was planned probably with some government officials and art theives in some conspiracy...either way the oil wells were well guarded while even after seemingly pleading by museum officials no care was given to protect Iraq's most prized art establishment...Two cultural advisers to the Bush administration resigned in protest over the failure in preventing the wholesale looting of treasures from Baghdad's antiquities museum-- Martin Sullivan, who chaired the President's Advisory Committee on Cultural Property and panel member Gary Vikan...who both said they resigned because the looting should never have been allowed to happen....well ask yourself this: if this was about 'liberation' would not one wish to protect such things from being looted? and if one did not care about the Iraqi people who gives a damn about their cultural loss--and moreover who gives a damn about depleted uranuim...this is just the first outrage of i'm sure many to come from this war
 

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empiremaker03 said:
i don't believe it was a mistake...after all this happened to a lesser extent during the U.S. bombing's last time...it was planned probably with some government officials and art theives in some conspiracy...either way the oil wells were well guarded while even after seemingly pleading by museum officials no care was given to protect Iraq's most prized art establishment...Two cultural advisers to the Bush administration resigned in protest over the failure in preventing the wholesale looting of treasures from Baghdad's antiquities museum-- Martin Sullivan, who chaired the President's Advisory Committee on Cultural Property and panel member Gary Vikan...who both said they resigned because the looting should never have been allowed to happen....well ask yourself this: if this was about 'liberation' would not one wish to protect such things from being looted? and if one did not care about the Iraqi people who gives a damn about their cultural loss--and moreover who gives a damn about depleted uranuim...this is just the first outrage of i'm sure many to come from this war
Empiremaker, I see and understand your point about the Americans. But I'd like to know what you think of the Iraqi people in light of the fact that many of them obviously cared so little about their own culture as to perpetrate the thefts of so many priceless artifacts?
 

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empiremaker03 said:
i don't believe it was a mistake...after all this happened to a lesser extent during the U.S. bombing's last time...it was planned probably with some government officials and art theives in some conspiracy...either way the oil wells were well guarded while even after seemingly pleading by museum officials no care was given to protect Iraq's most prized art establishment...Two cultural advisers to the Bush administration resigned in protest over the failure in preventing the wholesale looting of treasures from Baghdad's antiquities museum-- Martin Sullivan, who chaired the President's Advisory Committee on Cultural Property and panel member Gary Vikan...who both said they resigned because the looting should never have been allowed to happen....well ask yourself this: if this was about 'liberation' would not one wish to protect such things from being looted? and if one did not care about the Iraqi people who gives a damn about their cultural loss--and moreover who gives a damn about depleted uranuim...this is just the first outrage of i'm sure many to come from this war
oil wells had to be 'well guarded' because it only takes one asshole with a Zippo to cause an environmental disaster (as well as economic)

as for looting in general...

PEACETARD 1 "look at that! the Iraqis are looting! why don't the Marines do something and shoot them?"

PEACETARD 2 "look at that! the Marines are shooting the looters! this is OCCUPATION!!! :fiery: :mad: :fiery: "
 

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CKB apparently lives in a world where the only choice against looters is to kill them or let them perpetrate their misdeeds :rolleyes: Never mind.

Indeed some, maybe many Iraqis don't care about their own art treasures. But they don't really own them. Art and culture are meant for humanity in general, for those who understand them and love them in particular. Losing those treasures is not just losing beauty, it is also losing memory, and losing memory is one of the main factors which lead to barbary (I do not mistake memory for vindication).

It is no chance if, when tragic events occur, violent groups tend to target in priority art and culture. True, the remembrance of art destructions is not as strong as this author would like it to be. But art and culture endure as long as they are not annihilated by force. They change, of course, they grow up, acknowledge influences, but their spirit endures. Lately, in Albania, when the pyramidal savings system collapsed and mafias found themselves with plenty of guns in their hands, the first places they burnt were universities and cultural centres. Why? Because they represented the fight against brutality. Because they were not meant for immediate money-making and this was the ultimate obscenity in the eyes of those gangs. Make no mistake, I am no Communist, quite the contrary, and what Albanian mafiosi did was exactly what Bolsheviks did after 1917. But I cannot help seeing here a connection between the cult of money and the scorn or ignorance for art and culture. I don't think that American officials let the looting happen deliberately. They just did not consider protecting this treasure of humanity a priority. It is almost worse, you know.
 

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King Lindsay said:
Empiremaker, I see and understand your point about the Americans. But I'd like to know what you think of the Iraqi people in light of the fact that many of them obviously cared so little about their own culture as to perpetrate the thefts of so many priceless artifacts?
in a sense, kl...this kind of brings to mind a story of a man who took his extremely beautiful wife to a strip club. while there, it was obvious to the men at the other tables that this man was, in action and in word, very disrespectful of the woman who was with him. he several times attempted to push her toward an unoccupied pole, several times tried to undress her, and even started to fondle her in public.

several of the other men came over and tried to join in...to which the man shouted "leave her alone, you bastards! she's my wife!!" to which they all replied, "she's your WIFE? well sir, surely you don't expect a few strangers to give a shit about her when you most certainly don't!"
 

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Discussion Starter #14
CKB is right imo with respect to what some peaceniks would say if the occupying forces used force to stop the looting...however, it doesn't seem it needed to resort to such if the museum was guarded by a couple tanks--unless the criminals wanted to mess with the tanks also...yes, the oil wells should have been guarded b/c they are very valuable but to many so was the museum...i agree totally with gmt in that barbarians in taking over see destroying culture as a priority...but what Iraqi people? many good law abiding Iraqi citizens were in their homes hoping to be sage from the barbarians running the streets--and many were thugs from prison and other related criminal gang mindset--and part was the getting back at a terrible regime mentality...but I don't think it correct to blame the Iraqi people for what happened--after all many in America whose penchant runs to barbarianism and theft would likely be doing the same thing in anarchy presented itself
 

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Discussion Starter #15
'Diva is that what happens in those places? i wouldn't know since i won't frequent such establishments
 

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empiremaker03 said:
CKB is right imo with respect to what some peaceniks would say if the occupying forces used force to stop the looting...however, it doesn't seem it needed to resort to such if the museum was guarded by a couple tanks--unless the criminals wanted to mess with the tanks also...yes, the oil wells should have been guarded b/c they are very valuable but to many so was the museum...i agree totally with gmt in that barbarians in taking over see destroying culture as a priority...but what Iraqi people? many good law abiding Iraqi citizens were in their homes hoping to be sage from the barbarians running the streets--and many were thugs from prison and other related criminal gang mindset--and part was the getting back at a terrible regime mentality...but I don't think it correct to blame the Iraqi people for what happened--after all many in America whose penchant runs to barbarianism and theft would likely be doing the same thing in anarchy presented itself
And if Americans did that to American treasures, I'm willing to bet you would blame them.

It's not correct to blame the Iraqi people for what happened? uhhhh, are you sure about that? Usually when a crime has been committed, the blame goes to the perpetrator(s), in this case, the Iraqi people. Or do you not frequent courthouses either?

And exactly how would you know that many of the looters were "thugs from prison"? You made that up entirely.
 

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Car Key Boi said:
oil wells had to be 'well guarded' because it only takes one asshole with a Zippo to cause an environmental disaster (as well as economic)

as for looting in general...

PEACETARD 1 "look at that! the Iraqis are looting! why don't the Marines do something and shoot them?"

PEACETARD 2 "look at that! the Marines are shooting the looters! this is OCCUPATION!!! :fiery: :mad: :fiery: "
Oh CKB. You know as well as I do that all they would've needed was a light guard in front of the museums/libraries and then nothing would've happened. I hardly think that would detract from the other important tasks they were/are trying to accomplish.

You're much better off arguing that the American government had no reason to suspect that Iraqis would loot their own priceless treasures. ;) :D
 

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King Lindsay said:
And if Americans did that to American treasures, I'm willing to bet you would blame them.

It's not correct to blame the Iraqi people for what happened? uhhhh, are you sure about that? Usually when a crime has been committed, the blame goes to the perpetrator(s), in this case, the Iraqi people. Or do you not frequent courthouses either?

And exactly how would you know that many of the looters were "thugs from prison"? You made that up entirely.
them??? i am an American...i posted articles earlier from people writing about the looting going-ons and who was doing it so I am just not making it up...yes, the Iraqi people have destroyed many artifcats of their culture but why blame all of the Iraqis? that is like saying all Iraqis don't give a damn about art and history--some do and some don't but since the city was invaded the responsibilty for protestion rested with some...of course the military cannot stop everything but this particular incident surely did not need to happen as far as I can see...a news story today:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. officials said on Wednesday they have charged one former Fox News employee and were investigating some returning journalists after seizing 15 paintings, gold-plated guns and other items taken from Iraq and smuggled into the United States.

In the past week U.S. customs and immigration officials have seized paintings taken from the palace of one of Saddam Hussein's sons, found a cache of gold-plated weapons taken from an Iraqi government facility and confiscated Iraqi bonds, knives and other spoils of war.

Most of the people caught smuggling the items were reporters returning from covering the war in Iraq. But the gold-plated weapons were believed to have been looted by a member of the U.S. military and were in a shipment bound for a U.S. military base in Fort Stewart, Georgia.

"The people who saw these golden guns as a golden opportunity will now find themselves facing stiff penalties and the full force of our criminal justice system," Gordon England, deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said.

"It is a crime to either bring or to ship stolen property into the United States," added England, standing in front of two huge canvases confiscated from returning journalists.

None of the items seized so far are among the priceless antiquities and art treasures looted from the Iraqi National Museum following the collapse of Saddam's government.

But officials said regardless of their aesthetic value, they have a resale value in the United States -- at least on the black market.

"The relative worth of these items is really not the point. They should be repatriated to the Iraqi people," said Michael Dougherty of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "Whether the person doing the looting is looking for a windfall or a souvenir, they are stealing and we will use our authority to stop them and bring them to justice."
 
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