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[chox] Fwd: [lib-info-society] US&UK-led destruction of Iraqui libraries: "Iraq Invasion 'Biggest Cultural Disaster Since 1258': Interview with Fernando Báez."

---------- Forwarded message ----------From: Zapopan Martin Muela-Meza <zapopanmuela yahoo.com>Date: Jan 11, 2006 1:29 AMSubject: [lib-info-society] US&UK-led destruction of Iraqui libraries: "Iraq Invasion 'Biggest Cultural Disaster Since 1258': Interview withFernando Báez."To: Libraries Information and Society<lib-info-society yahoogroups.com>, Progressive Library InternationalCoalition <lib-plic yahoogroups.com>, ALA International RelationsRound ALA-World <alaworld ala1.ala.org>, faife faife<faife-l infoserv.inist.fr>, Rekombinant<rekombinant liste.rekombinant.org>

Lost Treasures - Burnt Books in Baghdad: A testimony of postwar.by Fernando Baez (*)Iraqcrisis22 May 2003http://www-oi.uchicago.edu/OI/IRAQ/LostTreasures-BurntBook.htmhttps://listhost.uchicago.edu/pipermail/iraqcrisis/2003-May/000133.html
Marquez, H. (2005). "Iraq Invasion 'Biggest Cultural Disaster Since 1258':Interview with Fernando Báez." Inter Press Service. 16 February.http://www.twf.org/News/Y2[PHONE NUMBER REMOVED]-Cultural.html
Dr. Fernando Baez <baezfer hotmail.com>, Venezuelan writer, historian, andPhD in Library and Information Science, is CNRS-UNESCO Adviser. He isexpert on the destruction of libraries, archives, and burning andplundering of books. His major works are (so far only published inSpanish):
Baez, F. (2005). Historia universal de La destruccion de los libros: Delas tablillas sumerias a la guerra de Irak (Universal History of theDestruction of Books: From Sumerian tablets to the Iraq war). BuenosAires: Editorial Sudamericana, 256 pp. ISBN: 9500726157.
Baez, F. (2001). La destrucción cultural de Irak: un testimonio deposguerra. (The Cultural Destruction of Iraq: a Postwar Testimony).Barcelona: Flor del Viento, 158 pp. ISBN: 8489644942.
Due to his research, Dr. Baez has been denied visa to enter in the USA togive lectures and conferences. Where's then the apocriphous "freedom ofspeech" and "freedom of academy" in the US government destructor of lifeand civilizations? Only in their fallacious bellicouse propaganda.
-------------- February 16, 2005Inter Press ServiceIraq Invasion 'Biggest Cultural Disaster Since 1258'    by Humberto Marquezhttp://www.twf.org/News/Y2[PHONE NUMBER REMOVED]-Cultural.html
    CARACAS - One million books, 10 million documents, and 14,000archaeological artifacts have been lost in the U.S.-led invasion andsubsequent occupation of Iraq - the biggest cultural disaster since thedescendants of Genghis Khan destroyed Baghdad in 1258, Venezuelan writerFernando Baez told IPS.
    "U.S. and Polish soldiers are still stealing treasures today andselling them across the borders with Jordan and Kuwait, where artmerchants pay up to $57,000 for a Sumerian tablet," said Baez, who wasinterviewed during a brief visit to Caracas.
    The expert on the destruction of libraries has helped document thedevastation of cultural and religious objects in Iraq, where the ancientMesopotamian kingdoms of Sumer, Akkad, and Babylon emerged, giving it areputation as the birthplace of civilisation.
    His inventory of the destruction and his denunciations that thecoalition forces are violating the Hague Convention of 1954 on theprotection of cultural heritage in times of war have earned him the enmityof Washington.
    Baez said he was refused a visa to enter the United States to takepart in conferences.
    In addition, he has been barred from returning to Iraq "to carry outfurther investigations," he added. "But it's too late, because we alreadyhave documents, footage and photos that in time will serve as evidence ofthe atrocities committed," said Baez, the author of The CulturalDestruction of Iraq and A Universal History of the Destruction of Books,which were published in Spanish. . . .
    FULL TEXThttp://www.antiwar.com/ips/marquez.php?articleid=4859-------------------
 Lost Treasures - Burnt Books in Baghdad: A testimony of postwar.by Fernando Baez (*)Iraqcrisis22 May 2003http://www-oi.uchicago.edu/OI/IRAQ/LostTreasures-BurntBook.htmhttps://listhost.uchicago.edu/pipermail/iraqcrisis/2003-May/000133.html

...every burned book enlightens the world...
R.W. EMERSON, 1841

"Destiny is written, but a divine hand obliterated crucial pages." Thisphrase, read in some hidden highland corner of Peru, has haunted meforever but only now, just now, demands from me fuller and more precisecomprehension. Let's say--since I must start somewhere--that a week ago myoffice routine disappeared and an executive decision relocated me toBaghdad as part of an international commission authorized to investigatethe destruction of libraries and archives in Iraq. I have spent the lastten years compiling information about cultural destruction, finished whatcould be the most complete book on the topic, but yet, only this trip hasbrought me back to the essence of my search.
I arrived in Baghdad, magic city of the Thousand and One Nights, thecapital of Al-Jumhuriyah al-'Iraqiyah, Arabic name of the Republic ofIraq, on Monday, May 5, at 4:37 in the afternoon. Given that I was theonly Latin American in the group, other than an Argentine Canadian namedManuel Olivieri, I felt much more preoccupied than usual. Unplanned eventsexact most from one's briefest hours and my stay was preceded by a sea ofdoubts about what was to come, beside the habitual superstitions, thesilent unexamined grudges, and exhausting prejudices. Was I safe to go toIraq or had I made a fatal decision? Was it certain that more than 200,000artifacts had disappeared from the Archeological Museum? Had a millionvolumes burned in the National Library? Did the press exaggerate? Iftwelve journalists died, how many thousand others were victimized by thisconflict?
I pondered on this almost asleep from exhaustion when I recognized in thedistance the mythic river, snaking like a wound through the city, theauspicious Tigris, its color indeterminable, and a cluster of dissimilarbuildings modeled on the architecture of delays and doubt, austerity, thelabyrinthine and penumbral. I was, definitively, in Baghdad, within thatdistance conquered by its name, and I decided to open my eyes. From therear window of the rustic vehicle in which we rode through the streets, Iobserved that the ravage of the war had not impeded the continuance in themarkets of trade in tea and yogurt, crafts, cloths, honey sweets, leathergoods, carpets and copper objects. Residents of Baghdad go about thestreets with that air of authority born of disorientation, or hate. Duringthe trip, as we passed through Abu-Nuwas, someone commented to me that inthat zone the rate of unemployment was a time bomb. Iraq has over 24million inhabitants, 80% of whom are Arabic, 20% Kurdish, divided byreligion into 60% Shiite, 37% Sunnites and 3% Christian; all of which hasto be explained with the premise that there are more than 5 millionunemployed who day after day walking over the soil that covers the secondlargest petroleum reserves in the world.
Back in my hotel room, asphyxiated by heat and the fear of a possibleterrorist attack, without washing due to the rationing of water, Idedicated myself to finding a computer so that I could send some messagesto family and friends. My cell phone did not function and the availabilityof public phones was limited. Having no luck, I initiated conversationwith several foreign press correspondents. All had the same information,as none dared move about the streets without military escort. The topicunder discussion was rather alien to me and all that I recall is that Iremember it. They spoke of the Asian pneumonic epidemic and itsconsequences.
On May 10, I was summoned to my first work conference. Seventy years agoto the day Nazis in Germany had burned thousands of books, turning theyear 1933 to a date fatal to culture. I don't know if it is a personalsuperstition, but the number 3 appears in the worst moments of books.Around the year 213 B.C., Emperor Shih-Huang Ti, initiator of the GreatWall, unifier of China, defender of legalistic school writings, orderedthe destruction of everything that could serve to reconstruct memories ofthe past, and the stimulation of an eternal present. Around the years643-644, it is believed that Arabs destroyed the Museum of Alexandria,location of the celebrated library. In 1453, Turks took overConstantinople and destroyed its renowned manuscripts. In 1813, Americansoldiers invaded York, burning the British North American (Canadian)Parliament and the legislative library, all of which was compensated bythe destruction by fire of the Library of Congress of the United States.During the night of March 9, 1943, an aerial attack over the BavarianState Library destroyed 500,000 books. In 1993 dozens of libraries, amongthem that of Stolac, were destroyed in part by Croatian nationalistmilitias. And now, 2003.
My assignment consisted of visiting and taking notes about the conditionsat the Archaeological Museum and the ancient National Library of Baghdad.It was two different set of events, one in the afternoon and the other inthe morning. I had been briefed, but what I learned and what I saw left mesleepless for two nights. Perhaps it would have been better to forget, butI have discovered that we forget only to have everything take us bysurprise anew.
It seems that horror, when we encounter it, moves about without itscustodians. Thus I felt at the National Library of Baghdad, al-Maktabaal-Wataniya, located as is the Ministry of Defense in Rasaf. The libraryhad a sinister aspect because its central façade had suffered visibly dueto the fire that also had weakened the structure and burst its windows,giving a melancholy air to the entire site. Before the destruction, therehad been a statue of Hussein with his left hand in a gesture of greetingand the right holding a book against his breast (although not widelybelieved, Hussein authored various books and was a voracious reader).Outside, there were now soldiers, some of them Latinos. Close to ten inthe morning, with my work group I entered the library where, as would bethe norm throughout, destruction was evident everywhere.
As we passed the entry, protected from the sun by an awning emblazoned atthe border with Arabic letters, hundreds of laborers and experts worked atwhat was possible to reconstruct of the place. As I walked through thehalls, I found that the lecture halls and the bookshelves had been leveledwithout reverence. Almost immediately I concluded that it would beimpossible to determine whether the manuscripts were hidden, stolen ordestroyed. The stairs were burned. It is undeniable that not a few textspassed into the Hussein Collection during the 1980's, but others did not.It is presently thought that 800,000 volumes along with thousands ofperiodicals have disappeared, including the first journals printed inPersian anywhere in the world.
I was told that the looting of the National Library began on April 14,when rumor spread that the dictator had fled, and a group with the use oftools and doing what they could, proceeded to select items at will, almostas though they were shopping. The first group of looters knew the locationof the most important manuscripts, which they hurriedly took, and withoutdiscussion and encouraged by the passivity of the military, sprayedgasoline throughout the stacks and set fire to everything. Some said thatwhite matches, originally issued to the military, were used to set thefires. According to another version, after the calculated theft amultitude of anonymous looters, made hungry and resentful by the deposedregime, arrived in search of valuable objects, and provoked the disasterdescribed above. The multitude ran every which way claiming the mostvaluable books.
Several hours later, a column of smoke could be seen more than fourkilometers away and in this voracious fire, of more than the Fahrenheit451 postulated by Ray Bradbury in his novel, disappeared thousands ofworks. Among other damage, old microfilm equipment, several newspaperswere torched, and the heat, from what I could deduce had been so intenseas to have damaged the marble floor, caused severe deterioration of theconcrete stairs and of the roof. Similarly the same act of vandalismdestroyed the National Archives of Iraq, housed in the same structure asthe library, which at the time employed a staff of 85 individuals.Millions of documents disappeared, including some dating to the Ottomanperiod.
The following day, there was literally nothing for the staff to do. TheDirector lamented nostalgically, "I do not remember a similar barbarityrecorded since the time of the Mongols", alluding to the 1258 invasion ofBaghdad by the troops of Hulegu, descendants of Genghis Khan, whodestroyed most of its libraries by tossing books into the Tigris River.Another staff member pronounced, "Caesar again destroys with the books";having learned of this, I was reminded of the passage in the Caesar andCleopatra of George Bernard Shaw, where Theodotus, the modest messengerarrives to tell the powerful general about the fire (which was to be thefirst) engulfing the library in Alexandria, "What is burning there is thememory of mankind." Unmoved, Julius Caesar responds, "A shameful memory.Let it burn...."
Later I went to the Archaeological Museum that is endowed, according tothe most exaggerated figure, with 170,000 artifacts or 25,000 according tothe most modest. Near the train station, the Archaeological Museum is amajestic building, its front elongated at each end by two sand-coloredtowers, now guarded by a tank upon whose cannon is written, "Greetingsfrom the American people." All is paradox. Notice of the Museum'slooting moved the entire world when it became known on April 12. Thescandal was of such magnitude that now it is obligatory to presentidentification upon entry and to endure searches upon exiting.
Presently at work in the Museum is Colonel Matthew Bogdanos, a responsibleand zealous official charged with the investigation of events and therecuperation of looted objects, supported by efforts of the FBI, the CIA,various Islamic Studies organizations, archeological experts, and a groupof soldiers. Bogdanos is an attorney, grounded in Classical studies andwith a career that includes a role in the unsuccessful prosecution inManhattan of rap musician Sean "P. Diddy" Combs. His team overseesseveral tables where a mounting number of recovered objects are placed andcataloged. The number of recovered objects increases because an amnestywas declared absolving any one wanting to return looted objects in theirpossession.
It is not rare to see a youth approach the doors to the museum, place asculpture on the floor and leave undisturbed. The exhibit halls were notset ablaze the day the museum was looted, but they were devastated. Thereare hundred of objects in pieces in Hall 3, Corridor 4, where in the pastthere was examples of precious objects unearthed by Iraqi and foreignexpeditions in such sites as Eridu, Kish, Uruk, Ur, Nippur, Shurupak,Eshnunna, Khafaji and also from other Sumerian cities. Probably Hussein'ssoldiers used the building as a strategic defense given irrefutableevidence of such use has been discovered on the second floor. A crosswordpuzzle to last six or seven decades. Without doubt what must have beenmuch improved is the overall appearance of the museum due to the thoroughcleaning that has accompanied the repair of doors and windows.
It is important to note that the destroyed books were not only those thathad been in the National Library. Sumerian clay tablets, the first booksof humankind, some 5300 years old, were left in ruins and the majoritystolen from the Museum. This center housed texts from Sumer, Acadia,Babylonia, Assyria, Chaldea, Persia and various Arabian dynasties. If thereader is not aware, it is necessary to point out that in this Museum wereguarded the tablets of the Code of Hammurabi, the first registered set oflaws in the world. Similarly, hundreds of clay tablets not yet deciphereddisappeared, some containing data about the origin of writing. Tabletsinscribed with the Epic of Gilgamesh were stolen. Tablets from the libraryof Sippar have yet to be found.
In sum, this is what I encountered during my first visit. As of today,there is no method to inventory the magnitude of the disaster to the Iraqicultural patrimony. The collection of 5000 Islamic manuscripts from theAl-Awqaf Library no longer exists. The inter-university library of theMadrasa Mustansiriya was destroyed and partially looted. The facilities ofthe University of Baghdad, founded in 1956, have been the sites of lootingand fires. Saddam Hussein's manuscript collection, known as Dar Saddamli-l-makhtoutat, was saved because its director, Usama N. al-Naqshabandi,hid it. According to estimates in a confidential report in my possession,losses at the Archeological Museum due to looting are 25% and 33% due todamage, while at the National Library the estimate of loss due to damagehas reached a figure of 50%.
Iman Mohammad al-Jawad al-Tamimi publicly stated that he, with otherIraqis, wanted to safeguard part of the library and had transported bytruck several thousand of manuscripts and books to the mosque at Al Hak.Soon there will be determination by the United States government about thepossibility that losses were less severe than previously thought sincedozens of volunteers a few days before the war had hidden books andartifacts all over Baghdad. But this could be an opportune rumor; now itis hinted that the books and objects will not be returned until thedeparture of what many in the Arab world judge as invaders.
A young student at the University of Baghdad and resident of the Al-Mansurneighborhood told me, "Some day someone will set fire to the Library ofCongress of the United States, you know, and not as much will be lost ashas been destroyed here." When considering the cultural importance ofIraq, keep in mind that this country has hundreds of sites declared byUNESCO as cultural heritage of all mankind. In this region is foundNineveh, from where governed Ashurbanipal, Uruk, where have been found thefirst samples of writing, Hatra, Ashur, capital of the Assyrian Empire,finally Babylonia.
As of today, meaning May 13, after visiting several cultural centers myreaction is the same, stupefaction mixed with acute indignation.Yesterday, a group of fifteen Museum employees accused their previousDirector, Jabir Khalil, of being a thief, which produced additionalconcerns for the (UNESCO) investigators. Two or three hypotheses havegerminated about the causes of the past events and about culpable parties.During two meetings, I was surprised to observe that the truepreoccupation of the Americans was not the actual destruction, but thecleansing of the image of the military with the end to prevent givingcause for the accusation of soldiers' complicity in crimes related to thetheft of cultural property, or for the entire nation to be listed in theregisters of biblioclasts.
With a priori reasoning the thesis has been put forth that all wasconducted by organized crime, by gangs dedicated to the illicit commerceof books and art, of which I do not doubt nor corroborate. The official incharge--whose name I will not disclose so as to maintain the transparencyof the investigation--suspicious of my questions, insisted on what hasbecome a point of honor for the govenrment of the United States. He said,"No soldier robbed or destroyed cultural material. The damage was done bythe Iraqis themselves". Something that has provoked cynical smiles is theassertion that only 28 artifacts were taken, the most notable of which isthe marble head of the Lady of Warka from about 3200 B.C. If this weretrue, the present recuperation efforts would be inexplicable--as noted bythose involved--as would be the hundreds of recovered objects now visibleon tables at the Museum.
In any case the damage is irreversible and there is concrete evidence thateven if no American soldiers participated, their superiors had beenadvised as to what would happen well in advance of the conflict. ProfessorMcGuire Gibson, for example, had told President George Bush that museums,libraries and archeological sites of the entire nation were to beprotected and provided a list of the most significant.
By April 9 the Museum of Basra had been completely destroyed including itsgardens, due in large part to the negligence of British troops. During the1990 Gulf War, 4,000 pieces had been stolen from the Museum of Baghdad, aharmful precedent that should have been considered. But, I insist, no onepaid attention. A sergeant in the Third Infantry Division told me, whilerequesting the use of the computer assigned to me to send a message to hisgirlfriend, that his battalion had not intervened in the looting becausethey had orders not to fire against civilians, and that besides those werematters for the police. His comments did not prevent me from smiling; thelogic of these men is naïve, or simplistically hierarchical.
Unfortunately, and I say this after having been in Baghdad more than aweek, I have come to two conjectures that I will later prove or reject.First, those truly responsible for this cultural destruction willresurface unscathed despite their violation of the Hague Convention of1954; second, the looting will proceed to the provinces, where thedestruction continues. In Mosul, the Museum and University librariesvanished. The 100,000 archeological sites are not properly protected; Isuspect that in only two or three years this cultural catastrophe will befully evident. Each district is threatened, and by this I refer to AlAnbar, Al Basra, Al Muthanna, Al Qadisiya, An Najaf, Arbil, AsSulaymaniya, At Ta'mim, Babil, Dahuk, Dhi Qar, Diyala, Karbala', Maysan,Ninawa, Salah and Din Wasit. In Nassariya groups of looters, numberingmore than three hundred, remove artifacts each night. They are armed withAK-47s.
Baghdad, for this and for many other reasons best left unsaid, is now anArabic city occupied by the most repudiated foreign force in the MiddleEast, a city without governance, besieged by religious conflicts andterrorists attempts, in economic crisis, suffering food rationing, withoutmedicines in hospitals, and if that were not enough its memory has beenerased, despoiled, and subjugated. Can a worse destiny be imagined for theplace where our civilization began?


(*) Fernando Báez is a latinoamerican writer. He has special interest inthe vulnerability of libraries. Author of La ortodoxia de los herejes, ElTractatus Coislinianus, Alejado, Todo el sol de las sombras, Losfragmentos de Aristóteles, and hundreds of articles in journals publishedin the United States, Europe, Latin America and Asia. He was awarded the"Vintila Horia" Prize for Essays for his study of the history of thelibrary of Alexandria. In this moment, his "History of destruction ofbooks. From Sumer to Cyberbook" is publishing in Spain.

Zapopan Muela----------------------------- v -------------------------------"Tiranos y aut�cratas han entendido siempre que el alfabetismo,el conocimiento, los libros y los peri�dicos son un peligroen potencia. Pueden inculcar ideas independientes e inclusode rebeld�a en las cabezas de sus s�bditos.----------------------------- v -------------------------------"Tyrants and autocrats have always understood that literacy,learning, books and newspapers are potentially dangerous.They can put independent and even rebelious ideas to the headsof their subjects."----------------------------- v --------------------------------- Sagan, Carl (1997). The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candlein the Dark : El mundo y sus demonios: La ciencia como una luz en laoscuridad. M�xico: Planeta, p. 390; New York: Ballantine Books, p. 362.
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