NYTimes.com Article: Pillagers Strip Iraqi Museum of Its Treasure

Justin Mason jm at jmason.org
Mon Apr 14 12:25:30 PDT 2003


khare at alumni.caltech.edu said:

> Elsewhere in the Times, it was mentioned that one meme in the Arab world is t
> hat we *want* the government looted and burned to the ground to emphasize the
>  illegitimacy of Saddam. But the library and museums are about the legitimacy
>  of Iraq, not the dictator. 
> 
> This story has been weighing on my mind today. I have been wondering how dysf
> unctional a society has to become to rape its own patrimony. 

I found a viewing of _The Pianist_ this weekend pretty illuminating.

What I see is -- in times of war, civil society breaks down.  (Especially
when there's no police force or even martial law).  When you've got no
food or drinking water, you need to gain short-term cash to *buy* some
black-market sustenance.

The looters are clearly philistines with little appreciation for the
cultural value of ancient artifacts.  To them, they just see gold, which
is probably worth more in Iraq right now than the dinar (?).  So that gold
is what they were probably after, to pay for food/water/etc.

Also, Saddam spent years identifying the ancient empires with his own
regime.    For people who don't know very much about their own culture,
they've probably only seen this stuff in Ba'athist political broadcasts,
I'd guess.

http://162.42.211.226/article2908.htm notes this about the looters:

  The mobs who came here -- Shia Muslims, for the most part, from the hovels
  of Saddam City -- probably had no idea of the value of the pots or
  statues.  Their destruction appears to have been the result of ignorance
  as much as fury. In the vast museum library, only a few books -- mostly
  mid-19th-century archaeological works -- appeared to have been stolen or
  destroyed. Looters set little value in books.


It's horrific BTW.   I'm not making any apologies for whoever did this;
just trying to put forward a rational explanation for *why*. :(

--j.


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