al-fitnatu ashaddu mina l-qatl

I am disturbed (and increasingly irritated) at the early shouts of victory in Iraq, as if toppling a statue means that we have won the war. We may have won the battle for Baghdad, but we haven’t won the war yet, and we most certainly haven’t won the peace.
Today, the phrase “al-fitnatu ashaddu mina l-qatl” kept coming to me. The saying is familiar to the 400 million people who make up the Arab world, and translated, it means something like “chaos is worse than slaughter.” That’s what we’re seeing now, with the looting in Baghdad showing no signs of slowing, in fact spreading, even to the National Museum. Baghdad is the centre of a 7,000-year old civilization. Babylonian, Sumerian, and Assyrian artifacts are forever lost, and we did nothing to stop it.
The explanation given by the Administation is that the military is too busy fighting remaining Saddam supporters to do anything about the looting. In his press conference on Friday, Rumsfeld complained that the images were shown over and over on TV, and said, “Where they (U.S. forces) see looting, they’re stopping it. And they will be doing so.” The claim stands in sharp contrast to what officials on the ground are saying. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, who is the Central Command spokesperson, said on Friday, “At no time do we really see becoming a police force.”
The problem with the Pentagon’s excuses is that when these hawks have spent a year planning to invade a country, shouldn’t they have thought about what would happen in a power vacuum and prepared for it? In addition, there were clearly enough military resources to protect one building in Baghdad and prevent its looting. What building do you think that was? The Oil Ministry.
So the fact that we’re doing nothing about the rest of the looting is deeply disturbing. It is chaos, and it is worse than slaughter. We have a small margin of time when a lot of goodwill is coming our way, and if that time isn’t used to turn things around, we will suffer the consequences.


9 Responses to “al-fitnatu ashaddu mina l-qatl”

  1. alex p Says:

    I’ve read that something like 170.000 priceless objects from the Baghdad Museum are now either stolen or destroyed.

    I really don’t feel that bad when I see two or three penniless iraqis stealing a refrigerator or a microwave from a public building, but when I see objects with 3000 or 4000 years shattered in the ground of that museum, it feels like what I imagine that a stab in the stomach would feel like…

    I am not anti-american (I am anti-stupidity :) ), but I blame Bush’s idiocy for what happenned.

    My country makes this year 860 years of existence. I don’t even want to imagine what crosses through the heads of the (educated) iraqis when they see a heritage 5 or 6 times as old being lost forever due to the ignorance, arrogance and incompetence of the American government and military.

    Congratulations on your web log, it is definitely the best I’ve seen so far.

  2. Tora Says:

    Excellent post.

  3. jim Says:

    I’m going to use this post to work out a few thoughts that have been running through my head as I read about the trashing of our cultural heritage in the deserts of Iraq. As a academician and writer, I tend to connect ideas, and this news seemed strangely familiar to me but as I write it becomes clear: the priceless heritage of Mesopotamia, the ancient cultural heritage in the desert near Ocotillo, California, and the Trail of Dreams near Yuma at Indian Pass are being trashed by looters who have one thing in common–an utter disregard for the value of history in the face of present-day greed, and they are being aided or ignored by a Bush administration which places no value on indegenous culture unless it can be exploited for contemporary economic gain.

    While the looters go to work at the National Museum, the Marines look the other way, and while the off-roaders drive over the graves of Kumeyaay ancestors, destroying millenia-old geoglyphs and shaman’s circles, the Bureau of Land management looks the other way in the Yuha desert. While the Glamis Gold corporation tries to make a giant open pit mine over the site of Quechan Creation in the deserts of Indian Pass, the Bush administration stands ready and willing to help permanantely extirpate our cultural heritage. One doesn’t have to be an Iraqi, a Kumeyaay, or a Quechan to feel the loss of priceless culture and its artifacts or places; you can be a white American and still be disgusted and outraged. I am. Thanks for a great blog.

  4. 0xdeadbeef Says:

    Well said! We’re watching history disappear in many ways. sigh.

    I have my fingers crossed that we’ll hear in the next few days that resourceful curators in the Museum spirited away many of the most priceless items to protect them from looters. I hope! I HOPE!

    I will be in Ocotillo tomorrow. On foot, I might add. It (and the surrounding area) is an amazing place, and it’s criminal to let it be destroyed. Seems extra sad to me that this destruction is done in the name of entertainment, by machines that burn large amounts of oil…

    On a lighter note:


  5. adnan Says:

    given ol’ rummy’s eagerness to instill an iraqi govt as soon as the us entered saddam international, you’d think they would’ve expected disorder (esp after you topple a tolitarian govt. ) and had plans worked out for a temp police force.

  6. Jonathan Edelstein Says:

    I agree with most of what you wrote, but your post raises the question of how much American soldiers should do to stop Iraqis from looting. Should American troops, for instance, shoot looters? If that’s going too far, should they make arrests on Iraqi soil? The chaos in Baghdad and elsewhere forces the United States to walk a fine line – too little force, and we’ll be seen as tolerating the looting; too much and we’ll be viewed as hostile occupiers. Either of these could cost us the Iraqis’ goodwill, and there’s no easy way to avoid doing one or the other.

  7. moorishgirl Says:

    Great point, Jonathan. I’m not sure the job of policing Iraq should be left to the Marines, but having said that, it doesn’t mean that we’re not responsible, of course. Perhaps units of the National Guard could have been used immediately after the fall of Basra, then Baghdad, to protect buildings from looters. No one has dared go into the one building protected by the Americans. The Administration has had a year to plan this, and plenty of warning from archeologists, university professors and the like about the dangers to Iraq’s cultural heritage.

  8. erik Says:

    Having just read Orhan Pamuk’s “My name is Red”, I am reminded of another time when Bahgdad burned and was looted, described in his book. That was when the Tartars sacked it after conquering it in the 15th century. I think events in Iraq over the past three weeks have given the lie to our assumption that we are in some way superior to our ancestors, or that our culture has somehow developed. All that has changed is that we no longer hack off the limbs of children with swords, but with cruise missiles. The effect, and the motivation, is the same.

  9. alex p Says:

    “Should American troops, for instance, shoot looters?”

    Yes they should. Just today (15/04/03) they wounded more than 100 civilians in Nassyria for protesting (somewhat violently, I am told).

    “If that’s going too far, should they make arrests on Iraqi soil?”

    They invaded a soberane nation without UN support (or better still, against the UN’s will). I see nothing special in arresting criminals, especially when they are destroying what belongs to the whole world.

    The Americans made arrests in Afghanistan, didn’t they? I don’t see the big deal in doing the same thing in Iraq. Kofi Annan himself said that the occupying power is responsable for the security of the occupied people, and for the transportation of an adequate amount of supplies to the civilian population. If this operation was ill planned (duhh!!!), that is the responsibility of the people in charge. After all, that is what “in charge” means: taking responsibility when things go wrong.

    By the way, I wonder what the US Marines defending the oil wells would do if they were confronted with a mob of looters? Would they shoot at them, would they make arrests in Iraqi soil? That is the question everyone should be asking: what is more important, the oil or the Iraqi heritage? We all know the answer to that question.

    By the way, I am a catholic who lives in a catholic country. In this particular issue, religion (or race) is not an issue, as far as I am concerned.

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