Details of the Iraqi Museum
April 14, 2003 4:06 PM   Subscribe

Walk thru of the now destroyed Iraqi Museum Even though I saw some discussion on MeFi on the Iraqi Museum, this link really brought it home. Forgetting the political BS, it's just a tragedy.
posted by zebra_monkey (46 comments total)
 
But on the upside nows the time to pick up some sweet antiquities on ebay
posted by zeoslap at 4:26 PM on April 14, 2003


Good thing the French, uh, acquired a lot of this kind of stuff and put it in the Louvre a long time ago.

Now here's an odd quote from the My Iraq section of that site:
"Iraq the country o f love,blessing and peace, beginning of the civilizations,treasure of the history. His nation full of love, beauty and friendly. The land of the two great rivers with plentiful goods,Iraq full of good-hearted and the first is our lover president SADAM HUSSAIN’s heart and the other
Iraqis who they never stopped love peoples. Each sand’s atom, plant’s leave, our children,women and men say in high sound( welcome to Iraq .) "
posted by trigfunctions at 4:40 PM on April 14, 2003


"Forgetting the political BS, it's just a tragedy."

Forgetting that the US did this would be a tragedy as well.
posted by fnord_prefect at 4:58 PM on April 14, 2003


Good thing the French, uh, acquired a lot of this kind of stuff and put it in the Louvre

Actually, for this particular neck of the woods, the important collections are in the Univ. of Pennsylvania Museum and the British Museum.

Even in a best-case scenario, the loss to human history is incalculable, though, from this disaster.

Here's more bad news: Iraq's National Library has lost most everything to fire. This will remind history buffs of the famous blackening of the Tigris River with ink after the Mongols invaded the seat of Islamic learning. For those who don't know, this is the kind of library in which, apart from the obviously priceless holdings in Islamic history and literature, there may well have lain undiscovered important works of ancient Greek literature (Aristotle, Theophrastus, medical writers, etc.) in Arabic translation.

The various responses are too little, too late.
posted by Zurishaddai at 4:58 PM on April 14, 2003


Whoops, here is the correct U.Penn. Museum link.
posted by Zurishaddai at 4:59 PM on April 14, 2003


There are many more links on the museum looting here: The 2003 Iraq War & Archaeology
posted by homunculus at 5:26 PM on April 14, 2003


Forgetting that the US did this would be a tragedy as well.

The US didn't do it, but we did allow it to happen. But indeed, most Americans will forget.
posted by homunculus at 5:39 PM on April 14, 2003


"Just consider how far the United States has sunk since the end of World War II. America launched the Safehaven Program to recover European art looted by the Nazis. Today, the United States aids and abets the looting of art and treasures thousands of years older than the European art it helped salvage some 60 years ago. In days past, U.S. military and intelligence, including the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, helped recover and restitute historical treasures looted by the likes of Hermann Goering and Alfred Rosenberg. American generals like Dwight Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, and George Patton, Jr., personally oversaw the recovery and return of artwork seized by the Nazis."

I do blame the Bush administration directly because they had plenty of prior warning and resources to try and do somthing to prevent this.
posted by stbalbach at 5:44 PM on April 14, 2003


I tend to believe this gives the Republican administration a certain sanguine feeling. And I feel hopeless in return.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 6:03 PM on April 14, 2003


Ah, sweet sweet liberation! The tang and savour of democracy and freedom! How glorious it is.

But seriously. You can always make new children with a little patience and elbow grease, but once art's gone, by god, it's gone forever.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:31 PM on April 14, 2003


Forgetting the political BS, it's just a tragedy.

On metafilter? You have to be kidding. No one will post on this thread unless they have a political agenda. Watch and learn.
posted by Dennis Murphy at 6:51 PM on April 14, 2003


I know, that's the nature of mf. Just wanted to make a statement. My beef, I especially like how Colin Powell is coming out saying we'll work to rebuild the museum and get the pieces back. Let's bunker buster those pesky Pyramids in Giza, show Egypt a thing or two. Then we can pick up the blocks and put them together again in the USA.
posted by zebra_monkey at 7:14 PM on April 14, 2003


Politics aside?

It sucks. It would be better if it hadn't happened.
posted by soulhuntre at 7:23 PM on April 14, 2003


Here's an assignment: check the warblogs for this story. Check Steven Den Beste, for example. See what Instapundit has to say. I sure couldn't find anything. Hmm, how about Little Green Footballs? Oh, look, a couple of pooh poohs in the comments here. These are the people whose favorite epithet is weasels. They'll be spinning it by tomorrow, I'll bet.

Oh, upon review, here's another blog entry:

Save our pottery!

The war grinds through its final stages and as it goes along into the post phase many of those who were looking forward to it all going to hell have had to turn to other things to complain about. This time it's pottery.

Now, I'm bummed about the potential loss of history too...but I don't think it makes us bad guys that a consequence of getting rid of a murdering thug might be some looting.

posted by soulhuntre at 2:48 AM PST on April 13

posted by y2karl at 7:27 PM on April 14, 2003


But seriously. You can always make new children with a little patience and elbow grease, but once art's gone, by god, it's gone forever.

... so if you have to shoot a few children to save the art...
posted by smackfu at 7:37 PM on April 14, 2003


y2karl, keep in mind one of the bastion voices of ultra-right conservatism once explained his disdain for museums because he wasn't allowed to drive golf carts through them.

I find it much more ironic that destroying museums and libraries was one of the first things fundamentalist groups like the Taliban when they came in and "liberated" somewhere.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:42 PM on April 14, 2003


No comment
posted by y2karl at 7:47 PM on April 14, 2003


But seriously. You can always make new children with a little patience and elbow grease, but once art's gone, by god, it's gone forever.

Assuming you're being sarcastic, what's your limit, then? Does this mean that the strategy for all robbers and rioters should be "just have little kids do it?" We're not talking about carpet bombing the entire block, here. Like one article said, a tank and two soldiers could have prevented this tragedy. People make this sound like preventing the looting would have necessitated a platoon of marines, some hammers, and a large box full of kittens.

No one is saying inanimate objects are more important than human life, and given a choice it's obvious which one you make. But it's not like we needed to divert much-needed troops from feirce combat with the 105th Iraqi armored tank division to protect the museum.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:54 PM on April 14, 2003


I apologize, XQUZYPHYR. I was being sarcastic, and more than a little devil's advocating, and in the end my comment was less funny than it was just a troll. My lame excuse is that I should know better than to PBC (post before coffee).

That said, I am constantly torn between sometimes a) thinking that human lives are infinitely more valuable than dusty artifacts, and we must not lose sight of the real tragedy here, and in total opposition to that, b) actually falling into misanthropy and thinking that we're all just output from the universal meat factory, and that pieces of art are infinitely more valuable than a few miserable lives, as they express some of what's best about the species, and are timeless.

This internal quandary of mine is enough to damn near break my brain sometimes, seriously. But I shouldn't inflict it on others.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:14 PM on April 14, 2003


This is starting to go ino The Book of Questions territory.

Would you condone the murder of a single innocent babyif it meant Hitler would never have been born?

Would you condone the murder of a single innocent baby if it meant current administration would never have been born?

Would you condone the murder of a single innocent baby if it would liberate Iraq witihout shot being fired?

Would you condone the murder of a single innocent baby if it restored the Nation Museum and Library of Iraq intact?

If permanent world peace could be gained by obliterating one country, would you be willing to select the country to be sacrificed? If so, which would you choose and why?


(Last one's a real question from the book.)
posted by y2karl at 8:56 PM on April 14, 2003


Two paragraphs from Ancient archive lost in Baghdad library blaze:

But defence department officials denied accusations by British archaeologists that the US government was succumbing to pressure from private collectors in America to allow plundered Iraqi treasures to be traded on the open market...

The American Council for Cultural Policy, a New York-based coalition of about 60 collectors, dealers and others who lobby to allow trading in treasures stolen in Afghanistan and Iraq, had received "no special treatment," the official insisted, despite reports that members of the group met with Bush administration representatives in January to argue that a post-Saddam Iraq should have relaxed antiquities laws.


Also,

US accused of plans to loot Iraqi antiques

The group is known to consist of a number of influential dealers who favour a relaxation of Iraq's tight restrictions on the ownership and export of antiquities. Its treasurer, William Pearlstein, has described Iraq's laws as 'retentionist' and has said he would support a post-war government that would make it easier to have antiquities dispersed to the US.

Before the Gulf war, a main strand of the ACCP's campaigning has been to persuade its government to revise the Cultural Property Implementation Act in order to minimise efforts by foreign nations to block the import into the US of objects, particularly antiques.

Lost treasures of Iraq

...Letters of warning and offers of help from conservation organisations to Tony Blair and the MoD before the war even started have largely gone unanswered, and there is still no appreciation of what is at stake.

It is now clear that the most dangerous stage of the conflict will be looting of monuments and museums on a massive scale. At an official level the American Council for Cultural Policy is already persuading the Pentagon to relax legislation that protects Iraq's heritage by prevention of sales abroad, arguing that antiquities will be safer in American museums and private collections than in Iraq.

posted by y2karl at 9:13 PM on April 14, 2003


Besides, stavrosthewonderchicken, if you are trying to make babies with patience and elbow grease, I am guessing that you are, thus far, childless.
posted by dg at 9:19 PM on April 14, 2003


Sacking the Past

In response to questions about the museum looting,
Donald Rumsfeld said: "We didn't allow it to happen. It happened."
But the point is that we did not prevent it from happening.

posted by y2karl at 9:24 PM on April 14, 2003


Besides, stavrosthewonderchicken, if you are trying to make babies with patience and elbow grease, I am guessing that you are, thus far, childless.

Unless "elbow" = "boomerang".
posted by billder at 9:28 PM on April 14, 2003


I wonder (just for brief moments, because I do not wish for my brain to spontaneously combust) what the reaction would be if U.S. Marines had roughed up a bunch of Iraqis civilians or taken them into some sort of custody to try to prevent the looting of the museum, especially if they didn't intervene in the looting elsewhere.
posted by Dreama at 9:56 PM on April 14, 2003


Contact info for Iraq's National Library, Archives, and Museum. They don't show up on the Library of Congress portal page. However, this 1988 article on whether there was an Internet in Iraq refers to the National Library, so somebody must have known of its existence.

Join The Rebuilding of Baghdad Library Campaign

Investing in libraries connects us to the future - Bill Gates
posted by sheauga at 10:38 PM on April 14, 2003


[This is Sad]
posted by Ufez Jones at 11:13 PM on April 14, 2003


I wonder (just for brief moments, because I do not wish for my brain to spontaneously combust) what the reaction would be if U.S. Marines had roughed up a bunch of Iraqis civilians or taken them into some sort of custody to try to prevent the looting of the museum, especially if they didn't intervene in the looting elsewhere.

Except for the Oil Ministry and Interior Ministry, of course! And we all know what a big uproar those interventions have caused. Get real.
posted by y2karl at 11:36 PM on April 14, 2003


ooh, Andrew Sullivan skips this story, too.
posted by y2karl at 12:58 AM on April 15, 2003


[offtopic]

If permanent world peace could be gained by obliterating one country, would you be willing to select the country to be sacrificed? If so, which would you choose and why?

Monaco. Just because.

[/offtopic]
posted by Vidiot at 4:33 AM on April 15, 2003


Ghetto pride.
posted by filifera at 7:10 AM on April 15, 2003


.
posted by rushmc at 7:34 AM on April 15, 2003


"Oh, upon review, here's another blog entry"

This is great, with y2karl reading I think my circulation just doubled!
posted by soulhuntre at 8:33 AM on April 15, 2003


The US is fucked any way on this issue, no one will be satisfied. Machine gun the looters, get accused of barbarism, don't shoot the looters, you're aiding and abetting them, seize the items for their protection and get accused of sacking Baghdad. There is no way to win in this situation.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:33 AM on April 15, 2003


The US is fucked any way on this issue, no one will be satisfied. Machine gun the looters, get accused of barbarism, don't shoot the looters, you're aiding and abetting them, seize the items for their protection and get accused of sacking Baghdad. There is no way to win in this situation.

I am not one to cry over the lost treasures. I did not care when the Taliban blew up all those Buddhas and I am not going to be affected by the loss of the world's oldest pebble with scratches. With that said, the US was not guaranteed fucked on the issue. A show of force guarding the museum would have stopped it without a shot prolly. The other day we were talking about how the few people tearing down the statue were so few because there were tanks in the street, and that applies here as well I would think.
posted by thirteen at 9:52 AM on April 15, 2003




A show of force guarding the museum would have stopped it without a shot prolly.

Just like how the University and palaces weren't looted as the military fought to secure them from the Iraqi military? Its sad, yes, its terrible. Terrible that some of the 2 or 3 hundred year old documents were destroyed, (although the implication that there were "greek manuscripts" among the books is quite a stretch) I'd be upset if the Susan Powter collection was burned . So the couple thousand US military personnel in this city of millions has to watch and make sure that their tanks don't get blown up by the Iraqi army, civilian militias or suicide bombers, now they have to make sure that one rival Arab faction doesn't set fire to another's archives? It sounds like there was quite a bit of vendetta being hashed out, two libraries and a museum, hmm, why? The son of the governor of one province killed the son of another in 1643 so the caliphate ordered that he turn over 50 camels and 1000 gold dirim, however this was never paid because both families disputed the claims over the years until the other day when all the records of any of this ever happening "suddenly and without warning" went up in a "mysterious" arson attack at the library where Ottoman era legal documents were housed. Now, of course that is a fictional story I just made up, but it demonstrates just how we stupid Westerners for the most part have not the beginning of clue how to understand the culture of the Middle East. We fall victim so quickly to the drama, scandal and intrigue, its no wonder the Arabs so easily filled the power vacuum left when the Romans pooped out. How the US military was supposed to know that there were going to be these arson events in the middle of a city in the chaos left from the toppling of a regime that told its people when to wipe their ass as well as covering their own ass in continued fighting against resistance elements is beyond comprehension. They will be blamed for everything that goes wrong because they are there, whether you think they should have gone or not, they are there now and they will be blamed. Is that fair?
posted by Pollomacho at 12:31 PM on April 15, 2003


Terrible that some of the 2 or 3 hundred year old documents were destroyed, (although the implication that there were "greek manuscripts" among the books is quite a stretch)

This seems to be a reference to my comment above. I certainly hope that some of the oldest and most valuable manuscripts in Baghdad's National Library may have been spared. But there is no reason for this hope. You see, the news reports indicate a great deal of devastation. You may have gotten the impression that the most important things in this library were Ottoman bureaucratic records. Not so. The emphasis on this kind of material you see in news reports is arbitrary and misleading. Here's the only vaguely fair assessment I've seen, from this AP story, which happily contains a ray of hope:

The three-story, tan brick National Library building, dating to 1977, housed all books published in Iraq, including copies of all doctoral theses. It preserved rare old books on Baghdad and the region, historically important books on Arabic linguistics, and antique manuscripts in Arabic that teacher Aziz said were gradually being transformed into printed versions.

"They had manuscripts from the Ottoman and Abbasid periods,"
[Abbasid = A.D. 749-1258] Aziz said, referring to dynasties dating back a millennium. "All of them were precious, famous. I feel such grief."

No library officials could be located to detail the loss. Haroun Mohammed, an Iraqi writer based in London, told The Associated Press some old manuscripts had been transferred from the library to a Manuscript House across the Tigris River.


Baghdad is where Galen was translated into Arabic in the 9th century. Etc., etc., etc. I did not mean manuscripts written in Greek, but if you really don't think there are ancient Greek works that survive only in unpublished manuscripts in places like the libraries of Baghdad, Damascus, the Vatican, etc., you are simply not well informed about the subject. In places like Baghdad and Damascus, the manuscript collections have not always received the attention, preservation care, and open access to the world's scholars that they deserve.

I am not going to be affected by the loss of the world's oldest pebble with scratches

It depresses me that anyone could feel that way, but your candor is admirable. Much of what we take for granted about being human (laws, writing, etc.) is first recorded to have happened in that stretch of land now contained in Iraq's borders. And a lot of the evidence on which a better understanding of our history as human beings depends was in the National Museum in Baghdad.
posted by Zurishaddai at 5:34 PM on April 15, 2003


This is great, with y2karl reading I think my circulation just doubled!

Yeah, me and you!
posted by y2karl at 6:26 PM on April 15, 2003


They will be blamed for everything that goes wrong because they are there, whether you think they should have gone or not, they are there now and they will be blamed. Is that fair?

They will be blamed because they set events in motion. Invasion makes you responsible for everything. The US and friends are not backing off from the smiling Iraqis or the toppling statues so what makes this different? Since I do not think there is a compelling interest for the US to be there at all, since I think it was a choice to go there, I have no problem letting them take the blame.

It depresses me that anyone could feel that way
My apologies, that was not my intent.
posted by thirteen at 7:28 PM on April 15, 2003


What Philip Kennicott said
posted by gudrun at 8:40 PM on April 15, 2003


I've read some incredible articles on how far the US has fallen as a civilized power sin WWII. During the war we made extensive efforts to return items stolen by the Germans and safeguard Europe's cultural heritage. Of course people will say so many ridiculous things on MeFi just to be heard, but to suggest anything other than this being a global tragedy simply defies logic. Iraq, whether they care or not, is the birthplace of civilization, it's our collective history, and our collective responsibility.
posted by zebra_monkey at 9:22 PM on April 15, 2003


Baghdad is where Galen was translated into Arabic in the 9th century.

Great, it was also sacked and its libraries destroyed in the 13th century. I would wager that of the fragments that did survive the Mongols most were either stolen or sold during subsequent occupations or despotism or sit in some back shelf in a mosque somewhere. Other cities that were spared much of the destruction by the barbarian hordes probably have far, far better collections of antiquities, probably not the Vatican, except for what may be housed there after the crusades, but maybe Damascus though, however the crusades and hordes were pretty hard on the whole region in terms of antiquities. At least the Imams of Iran have more respect for their history than the Taliban had for Afghanistan. Much of what may have been destroyed also may have been items which Sunni or Shia Muslims or Arab citizens may have wanted to erase from the historical record. Of course this is a tragedy, but although you may call me misinformed, it is my belief that the most pivotal and important artifacts in existence were not housed in those archives and many are yet to be discovered. Hopefully as Iraq opens its doors a bit more than the last 30 years some new and exciting discoveries can be unearthed, but of course, sadly they will be destroyed thanks to some future event or decay once they have been discovered, such is the way of artifacts.

The issue that some 18 year old kid from Kansas that barely made it out of high school was supposed to know that 2000 year old tribal rivalries were going to erupt and take the form of antiquities theft and burning of the library while at the same time avoiding getting his head blown off is a whole other issue. The US started it, you may say, well, sure no duh, they started the war, they probably could have predicted some looting and some lawlessness once the regime fell, but to expect people to have absolutely no respect for their own history in a region where bloody century long wars are fought over matters of history would be impossible.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:35 AM on April 16, 2003


The issue that some 18 year old kid from Kansas that barely made it out of high school was supposed to know that 2000 year old tribal rivalries were going to erupt and take the form of antiquities theft and burning of the library while at the same time avoiding getting his head blown off is a whole other issue.

Spin it falser and faster, Polomacho, spin it pathetically false, by all means ignore the Pentagon was well warned and well briefed and could have prevented it, as noted and linked above and here below. The issue is the administration and the Pentagon knew and did nothing--not some 18 year old from Kansas.

Bush Panel Members Quit Over Looting
Cultural Advisers Say U.S. Military Could Have Prevented Museum Losses



And just what 2000 year old tribal rivalries are you talking about, and what did they have to do with the looting of the National Museum and Library, bonehead? What, when out of facts, pull it out of your ass wholesale?
posted by y2karl at 12:45 PM on April 17, 2003


I would wager that of the fragments that did survive the Mongols most were either stolen or sold during subsequent occupations or despotism or sit in some back shelf in a mosque somewhere.

I don't know what else to say but to repeat: it is a fact that Iraq's National Library had an extremely important collection of Abbasid manuscripts that had survived quite nicely until recently.
posted by Zurishaddai at 9:58 PM on April 19, 2003


But for an alternate view of things, see Eric Gibson in the WSJ. Whether this revised version brings us closer or farther to the truth, only time will tell. Plenty of provocative suggestions: the storage vaults at the museum were not in fact emptied as reported, U.S. forces are excused because they took fire from the museum, etc. (Obviously, some of this is politically motivated B.S., but we can hope that there is real good news in there somewhere.)
posted by Zurishaddai at 1:43 PM on April 20, 2003


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