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The destruction of our shared cultural heritage

Western civilisation was was born in Mesopotamia.  The nation of Iraq stood custodian to the shared cultural heritage of the West.  The US sees itself as a pillar of Western civilisation.  We have already seen the Bush administration abandon such cherished ideas as habeus corpus and the ban on torture.  But in a war full of horrendous actions, the devastation of Iraq’s cultural heritage still manages to shock me.  Writing in the Guardian, Simon Jenkins said:

Under Saddam you were likely to be tortured and shot if you let someone steal an antiquity; in today’s Iraq you are likely to be tortured and shot if you don’t. The tragic fate of the national museum in Baghdad in April 2003 was as if federal troops had invaded New York city, sacked the police and told the criminal community that the Metropolitan was at their disposal. The local tank commander was told specifically not to protect the museum for a full two weeks after the invasion. Even the Nazis protected the Louvre.

and continues

[head of Iraq’s supposedly sovereign board of antiquities and heritage, Abbas al-Hussaini] confirmed a report two years ago by John Curtis, of the British Museum, on America’s conversion of Nebuchadnezzar’s great city of Babylon into the hanging gardens of Halliburton. This meant a 150-hectare camp for 2,000 troops. In the process the 2,500-year-old brick pavement to the Ishtar Gate was smashed by tanks and the gate itself damaged. The archaeology-rich subsoil was bulldozed to fill sandbags, and large areas covered in compacted gravel for helipads and car parks. Babylon is being rendered archaeologically barren.

It’s just heartbreaking to read things like this.  Sure, it should be more heartbreaking to read about the murder of innocents…but somehow this is even more shocking.  It says a lot – we have gotten used to murder and genocide.  But I have not gotten used to this.  Jenkins closes with:

Though I opposed the invasion I assumed that its outcome would at least be a more civilised environment. Yet Iraq’s people are being murdered in droves for want of order. Authority has collapsed. That western civilisation should have been born in so benighted a country as Iraq may seem bad luck. But only now is that birth being refused all guardianship, in defiance of international law. If this is Tony Blair’s “values war”, then language has lost all meaning. British collusion in such destruction is a scandal that will outlive any passing conflict. And we had the cheek to call the Taliban vandals.

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