Ruins of Babylon to Reopen, Probably Disintegrate

The New York Times has a kind of creepy article about the reopening of the ruins of Babylon.

Apparently the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage is supposed to have jurisdiction over the ruins, but they are helpless to stop the provincial government of Babil from opening up the ruins to tourism.

There’s also a rival agency, the State Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, which is closer to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has been solidifying his position lately. And those two agencies have been fighting over the handling of historic sites.

The article has a nice picture of a replica of the Ishtar gates, and points out that the original is in a museum in Germany because, you know, European plunder and all that. (Geeky Simpsons reference: remember when Chief Wiggum as Pharoah locked Lisa and Milhouse inside the pyramid and said, “Give my regards to the British Museum”?).

The creepy part of the article is where the writer does a two-step around what American troops did to the ruins of Babylon after the invasion. First it says:

Now with the support of some officials in Baghdad, the local government has reopened the excavated ruins of Babylon’s ancient core, shuttered ever since the American invasion in 2003.

“Shuttered,” as if noble American forces recognized the importance of these ruins on a global scale and carefully assured that they would come to no further harm, not if they could help it.

Then several paragraphs later, they tell the real story, that American and Polish troops trashed the hell out of it.

Archaeologists were appalled [about Saddam’s sloppy rebuilding], but could hardly complain at the time. Such is not the case with the American and Polish troops who occupied the site from 2003 to 2004. The work they carried out to turn the area into a base, as reported by a British Museum study, provoked international outrage, though the extent of the damage is a matter of debate and perspective.

As if the international community had no complaints about Saddam’s desecration. As if the Iraqi’s should be glad they were able to complain. And then there’s “the extent of the damage is a matter of debate and perspective.” Really? Unlike everything else on the face of the earth? Thank you for that phrasing, American-exceptionalism apologist at the NY Times. My perspective would be, that of all the places in Iraq that invading soldiers could have chosen as a base, historic sites should have been none of them.

Now here’s the really creepy part:

Asked who did worse by Babylon, Mr. Hussein or the Americans, however, she became taciturn. “Is it necessary to ask such a question?” she said uncomfortably, and declined to answer.

This reminds me of the mind-bending news feature I saw back in 2003. There was an Iraqi boy whose entire family had been killed by American bombing, and he had lost his limbs as well. (I can’t remember if it was all his limbs, but it definitely included both arms). The news feature was making much of the kindly Americans giving him good medical care and offering to replace his arms with prosthetics. He was lying in his hospital bed with no limbs, looking a little wan, and they were literally prodding him to say how grateful he was for what the Americans did.

Mohammed Taher, an archaeologist and former director of the ruins who opposes reopening Babylon, said what was being done now was little better than what had been done before. “I would like to rebuild Babylon again for scientific research, not like Saddam,” he said as he guided visitors through the remains of Ishtar Gate with bas reliefs of Babylon’s gods; the Temple of Ninmakh; the Processional Way, with brick paving stones mortared with bitumen; and a symbol of Iraq itself, the Lion of Babylon, a 2,600-year-old sculpture.

The article starts out with the usual “these people can’t govern themselves/these people have been fighting for thousands of years” line that you see so often from people who can only think in stereotypes:

BABYLON, Iraq — After decades of dictatorship and disrepair, Iraq is celebrating its renewed sovereignty over the Babylon archaeological site — by fighting over the place, over its past and future and, of course, over its spoils.

Ah well. In any case, there’s hope for visiting the ancient sites of the cradle of civilization in my lifetime. That’s something.

the real Ishtar gate in museum in Germany

the real Ishtar gate in museum in Germany

Update: the Iraqi boy I’m thinking of is probably named Ali Hamza or Ali Ismael Abbas. I can’t find the clip, though. I also suspect this is the same boy in both cases, just called by different names.

From the CNN article:

The doctor also says the hospital has been receiving calls from around the world, individuals offering to pay for prosthetic limbs to replace the two arms that he lost in the blast that also killed another 15 members of his family, including his stepmother — I’m sorry — his mother, his stepfather, several of his siblings, and many cousins.

Oh look, he has a Wikipedia page, assuming it’s the same kid:

Ali underwent treatment in Kuwait and later in London, where he was fitted with robotic prosthetic arms, paid for by the Kuwaiti government. He no longer uses the arms, having found them too heavy and unwieldy, although he wears artificial arms while attending school so as not to draw attention to himself.

He has learned to speak English, and to write and paint with his feet. He has written and published a children’s book.


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Filed under arab, arabian, arabist, Our glorious war in Iraq

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