This was not just random looting. Glass cases were cut into with highly sophisticated tools. Artifacts too large to be carried away were gratuitously destroyed. There seemed in fact to have been a systematic attempt to reduce the museum to a shambles -- as if to hide traces of what had happened there. It is only a theory at this point, but there is no reason to discard the idea that in their flight Saddam Hussein's henchmen got to the abandoned museum long before the mobs did.
In any event, it is self-defeating for Iraqis (and others) to try to place all responsibility for this cultural disaster on the shoulders of the U.S. military. That perpetuates the myth that outsiders are always responsible for the problems and failures of the Arab world. Arab governments have developed the political reflex of shifting blame to others into a high art, and their citizens buy into that view with amazing ease.
No one likes to accept blame. But the degree to which outside forces are held responsible for the long and continuing economic, cultural and social decline of most Arab countries is remarkable by any current standard. The Arab media, politicians and intellectuals portray their people collectively as victims the whole livelong day.
That can only add to the widespread civic passivity that spreads under conditions of totalitarian rule and deep poverty. It has been encouraging to see liberated Iraqis in Baghdad begin to break out of ingrained fatalism by organizing themselves to resist looters and clean up their neighborhoods. Societies survive from the bottom up.
Iraqis now have a chance to look squarely at the factors in their society that made them prey to a criminal regime -- and to change them. They can no longer blame everything on Saddam Hussein, Israel, the United States or all of the above. In that way, at least, a free Iraq can serve as a model for all Arabs.
Thursday, April 17, 2003
Jim Hoagland makes some thought-provoking points about the Baghdad museum. His implication that perhaps the museum was looted before the American arrived dovetails with something Brit Hume had on his report last night - that some experts believe that a lot of what the museum had on display in recent years were facsimiles of the real items.
Posted by Betsy Newmark at 9:24 AM