Profs: Bombs threaten Iraqi culture, important artifacts

If one of the American bombs being dropped on Saddam Hussein’s palaces goes astray even slightly, Near Eastern Language and Civilization professor Eckart Frahm said, it may destroy the ruins of a nearby archeological relic: the Tower of Babel.

Frahm was part of a panel Tuesday evening that discussed the history and culture of Iraq, and the impact the war could have on the preservation of that culture. Audience members filled every seat and crowded the aisles of Sudler Hall to hear the panel of Near Eastern Language and Civilization professors.

Frahm said he began planning the event after being unsatisfied that other panels on the war in Iraq he attended did not discuss the culture of Iraq.

“I was annoyed [by the panels],” Frahm said. “No one addressed that Iraq has a history and a population.”

Frahm said Iraq is the site where the earliest cities, states and literature were developed. Many of these cultural finds, he said, could be threatened by war.

“Air strikes might damage and destroy Iraqi museums,” Frahm said. “An entire 6,000 year-old village can be turned into a defense work in a day or two.”

Frahm said protecting Iraq’s ancient relics was not a major consideration for the American government.

“It is clear that the protection of Iraqi oil wells is a much higher priority than the preservation of cultural artifacts,” Frahm said.

Professor Siam Bhayro discussed the influence of Christianity and Judaism in Iraq. He said a continued Jewish presence in Iraq, where Jews have lived for over 2,700 years, is in jeopardy.

“Today in Iraq there are just about 100 Jews,” Bhayro said. “At the present rate of decline we will see the end of Jewish settlement in Mesopotamia in our lifetime.”

When asked why Jews remain in Iraq despite their low numbers, Brayro responded, “It’s their home.”

Professor Beatrice Gruendler described the long tradition of education in Baghdad, including the development of some of the world’s oldest libraries and schools.

“Last Sunday a missile hit the entrance of a medieval structure,” Gruendler said. “The victim is an institution of learning that has existed for over 800 years.”

Professor Benjamin Foster said Yale has a long tradition of a scholarly connection to Iraq that continues to the present day. The day after the war began, he said, he received a document request from a student in Baghdad trying to write her dissertation.

“I hope she’s still alive,” Foster said.

Near Eastern Language and Civilization Chairman Dimitri Gutas described the feelings of respect people in the Middle East have for Baghdad.

“How would we feel now if Rome was being bombarded and was in imminent danger of being destroyed? Basically this is the kind of resonance that Baghdad has in the Islamic world,” Gutas said. “It is going to be a huge wound to the soul of over a billion people on this earth.”

Audience members applauded panelists on several occasions when they expressed opposition to the war in Iraq.

Chinyere Ezie ’06, who attended the panel, said it caused her to consider implications of the war in Iraq that were usually ignored.

“I thought it shed a new voice on the way Iraq is described both in the media and on campus,” Ezie said. “I think the panelists made clear with their discussions that Iraq has an important history.”

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Peter vanAgtmael
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