a 7,000 year old text or a seven year old child?
[ed. note: this post has been update - down at the end]
There's a lot of hand-wringing over the looting of Iraqi museums.
I know that Iraq is the cradle of civilization. If I hadn't known it before, I certainly would have been well schooled in the history of the area by the time I helped my daughter finish her project on that very subject last year.
Sure, I am saddened over the loss of 7,000 years worth of history as a result of the looting.
However, I am more saddened by the looting and plundering of the lives and dignity of the people of Iraq by Saddam Hussein.
Wednesday was the day for killing and Thursday was the day relatives paid to collect the bodies of the dead. How prisoners were executed depended on an order from above – a bullet to the back of the head for those deemed to deserve a degree of mercy and the rope for those destined to suffer.
On the morning of their deaths, prisoners were asked their permission to be killed: those who agreed first received a glass of water and a brief reading of verses from the Koran while those who said no went straight to the hangman's noose.
On Thursdays, the relatives of the dead came to collect the bodies of their loved ones. They could only do so if they paid for the bullets that were used in their deaths.
George Bush did not loot and plunder the museums. The people of Iraq did. And while you may cry and lash out over the loss of texts and golds and cuniform - and that's understandable - to value those things over the loss of life is foolish. And to not see why the museum was looted is to be blind to what is really going on.
The people of Iraq who have rioted and ransacked and carted away plush chairs and silk draperies from the palaces of Saddam, the people who ran into the stores and museums and took what they could get, they were reacting. They were letting go of years of repression and bitterness and anger.
If we are placing blame, let it be on Saddam. It is not the fault of the troops, who were busy fighting down the opposition. It is not the fault of Rumsfeld. It is the fault of a regime that made its people feel worthless, degraded and inhuman.
Pictures of dead Iraqis, with their necks slashed, their eyes gouged out and their genitals blackened, fill a bookshelf. Jail cells, with dried blood on the floor and rusted shackles bolted to the walls, line the corridors. And the screams of what could be imprisoned men in an underground detention center echo through air shafts and sewer pipes.
''I was beaten, refrigerated naked and put underground for one year because I was a Shiite and Saddam is a Sunni,'' said Ali Kaddam Kardom, 37.
I found this comment on the weblog post linked above:
[the loss of museum artifacts] is worse than killing people, and you are right to grieve more.
When you kill a person, you snuff out the whole universe that is in their head, who they are, what they know, and all the potential of what they could be and do. But they will, eventually, die anyway: everyone dies. You've killed them and made that happen sooner. It's a terrible thing, but it's within the way things happen.
I'm sorry, but I cannot subscribe to that way of thinking. I do not place the value of things over people.
There are people grieving over the loss of the museum pieces. Crying, unable to work or concentrate.
I want to know if they cried for the toddlers in Saddam's prisons.
I want to know if they cried for the women who were raped as punishment or the men who were dipped in acid.
Did they cry for the children who starved to death while Saddam spent his food for oil money on a golden bidet and mirrored ceilings in his bedroom?
A physical record of the history of civilization has been lost due to the looting. Yes, a very sad, depressing thought.
I would not trade one of those urns or parchments for the life of a human being. I would not trade a single book or piece of art for the liberation of millions of suffering people. I would not trade any single item that is gone from that museum for the children that were set free from their prison.
I pity you if you would.
UPDATE: For more on this, see Dr. Weevil. Read all the comments. It is my contention, as it is that of many others, that the looting of the museum was an inside job (it has been reported that the vaults were opened up) and thus could not have been stopped from the outside. I also believe that the goods stolen were not taken out and stomped on or crushed or destroyed in anger; they were taken by people who knew the worth of these items and intend to sell them on the black market. They will turn up again. Maybe not soon, but they will.