Friday, March 16, 2007

Iraqi Culture and History

Iraqi libraries have been burned before. Iraq will survive this war.

By the way, I've been using Wikipedia a lot. Some people think Wikipedia is not a good source of information because entries are made by ordinary people, but if you read a few pages you will realize that the people who write (or copy?) these pages are certainly not ordinary. Every once in a while a zealot might misreport the death of a celebrity, but I find Wikipedia to be a nice online encyclopedia.

Hulagu's army attacks Baghdad, 1258. Note siege engine in foreground.

Preserving Iraq's Cultural Life and History
NPR Profiles the Resored Iraqi National Library and Archives

The Mutanabi book market bombing a few weeks ago gave a tragically vivid example of how Iraqi cultural life is under attack just as much as the Iraqi people themselves.

On NPR's Morning Edition today, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro focused on the tragic state of Iraqi cultural life, and profiled one shining beacon of hope rising up from the devastation of Baghdad: the Iraqi National Library and Archives

The library was burned and looted in the chaos that consumed Baghdad soon after the American invasion. Thousands of irreplacable books and historic documents we destroyed, though Muslim clerics did reportedly manage to save and hide many. Now the library has been rebuilt and re-opened, and currently employs some 400 people.

Lourdes' discussion with Saad Eskander, the head of the National Library, reminds us that the war in Iraq is being fought across many battlefields, some tactical, some ideological, both public and private.

For Eskander, the National Library and Archive is more than just a building. He says it's a battlefield where the prize is Iraq's very soul.

"Institutions like us, book market like al-Muttanabi, they are important source of uniting and unifying the country," Eskander said. " is not just a political attack on Iraq, it's a cultural attack as well."

Eskander acknowledges there have been setbacks at the library, and says he's received threats. But he says will never leave Iraq.

"If all of us emigrate, they will win the war and they will take the country," Eskander said. "So, as a citizen of this country, it is my duty to resist and fight them in my sphere. And my sphere is culture."

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