Libraries and Museums on Fire

Egyptians make a human chain to help protect the Cairo museum during anti-government protests

Rahim Hamada called the BBC from Cairo: “Civilians are surrounding the museum of Cairo in [Tahrir] Square and protecting it from looting. All the police have left the square, I think, to try and create disorder, but the civilians are taking control and organising traffic. They are also protecting property from looters and thieves, and taking back stolen goods, which are being placed in the yard of the museum for safety. We want this protest to be peaceful.”

Oh God, please…

Don’t let what happened to the ancient Babylonian treasures during the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, happen here in Egypt.

Iraqi Treasures Return, but Questions Remain

While Iraqi officials celebrated the repatriation of what they called invaluable relics — “the return of Iraq’s heritage to our house,” as the state minister of tourism and antiquities, Qahtan al-Jibouri, put it — the fate of those previously returned raised questions about the country’s readiness to preserve and protect its own treasures.

Appearing at a ceremony displaying the artifacts at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Iraq’s ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumaidaie, pointedly said a previous shipment of antiquities had been returned to Iraq last year aboard an American military aircraft authorized by Gen. David H. Petraeus, only to end up missing.

“They went to the prime minister’s office, and that was the last time they were seen,” said Mr. Sumaidaie, who has worked fervently with American law enforcement officials in recent years to track down loot that had found its way into the United States.

Babylonian treasures damaged by coalition troops

The ancient city of Babylon has suffered extensive archaeological damage during the US-led occupation of Iraq, warns a report issued by the British Museum on Saturday.

The report states that prehistoric brickwork has been crushed beneath military vehicles, precious stonework used to fill sandbags and important historical sites damaged by newly dug trenches.

“This is tantamount to establishing a military camp around the Great Pyramid in Egypt or around Stonehenge in Britain,” says John Curtis, keeper of the department of ancient near east at the British Museum in London, UK, and author of the report. “The damage caused by the military camp is a further blow for the cultural heritage of Iraq.”

The Fate of Iraq’s Treasures

Iraq has had – shall we say – a colourful recent history. Wars with Iran, Kuwait, the US and the US again; insurrections, intifadas, genocide and rebellion have left a land which, while rich in natural resources, is one of the most shattered civilizations on the planet. Most would blame Saddam Hussein and his egotistical bigotry for Iraq’s current plight; others point the finger at the remnants of the Cold War, which left Iraq fighting an impossible proxy conflict with their Iranian neighbours – arming Saddam’s bloodthirsty Ba’athists in the process. Yet whatever your stance on the country’s twisted fate and economic desperation, there can be no doubting its wealth of history, heritage and millions of treasures, which unlock the secrets of the cradle of civilization. So what are Iraq’s Mesopotamian showpieces, and how have they been looked after by their modern descendents?


Books on Fire_The Destruction of Libraries throughout History

Author Lucien X. Polastron depicts the worst nightmares of bibliophiles in his erudite and always captivating look at Books on Fire: The Destruction of Libraries throughout History. If one glances at Appendix 3, “A Selective Chronology,” alone, one sees that we often do not learn from history, and that is why history often repeats itself, in the loss of untold amounts of knowledge due to the destruction of libraries and the books contained within them. Libraries meet their ends due to fires, floods, rampaging barbarian hordes, mold and insects, thievery, and possibly, in the near future, to the technology of the Internet and projects such as Project Gutenberg and American Memory.

Polastron traces the history of this subject in an informative way, never reducing or limiting the importance of the loss of so much knowledge merely to dates and numbers of volumes lost, as a less talented author might. Instead, he makes the tale of the losses palpable and engrossing by writing about the people behind the construction of various libraries, the people who owned private collections and libraries, and the people behind the demise of them, putting faces to the accounts he relates.


How to explain the horror that a bibliophile feels upon reading Books on Fire ? Milton equates the censorship and destruction of books to murder, and that’s probably similar to what many book lovers feel. The destruction is so senseless, so soul-destroying. Gone forever are countless illuminated texts, one-of-a-kind editions, scientific works that, because of their loss, set back the progress of mankind and increased the darkness and length of the Dark Ages.


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