Panel of NELC profs blasts U.S. action in Iraq

The damage in Iraq extends much further than bullets and bombs: the United States is actively destroying the cultural heritage of the Islamic world, as well as helping to oppress the Arab population, five faculty members said in a panel discussion Tuesday.

In “Iraq Beyond the Headlines II,” five members of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations discussed U.S. involvement in the Middle East from a historical, archaeological and political perspective.

Panel members said the United States is aiding in the destruction of priceless libraries and archaeological sites and preventing the development of democracy in Iraq.

“It was a very in-depth discussion about a very bad situation,” said Torger Vedeler GRD ’06, who is studying NELC.

NELC professors Karen Foster, Eckard Frahm and Dimitri Gutas said Iraq’s cultural heritage is in danger.

“Iraq is a country whose history is as important a resource as its oil,” Frahm said.

Since the war in Iraq began six months ago, Frahm said, U.S. occupation has caused unrestrained looting of archaeological sites. Soldiers have not protected the sites, allowing for the destruction of priceless artifacts, he said. Foster also spoke about the looting of historical objects — some of which are more than 5,000 years old — in museums. Foster said Baghdad museums have remained unprotected, while the oil ministry remains a primary concern.

While Foster and Frahm spoke about the destruction of priceless texts, Gutas spoke about damage to current periodicals and the media in Iraq.

“America is killing the heritage of Iraq and also killing the truth,” Gutas said.

He said the U.S. government has been censoring the Iraqi media as well as the media in the United States.

NELC professor Bassam Frangieh offered a solution to the destruction.

“The U.S. has to learn to be friends with the people, not the government,” Frangieh said.

Since 1967, the American government has helped oppressive dictators remain in power, Frangieh said, to keep oil prices down. Frangieh said in doing so, the United States has been “digging its own grave” for over 40 years. The only way the United States can help Iraq is by supporting the people and their cause instead of dictators who oppress the Arab masses, he said.

“If there is democracy in the Arab world, there is no America in the Arab world,” Frangieh said.

NELC professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies Benjamin Foster’s presentation related to Frangieh’s. He gave a brief history of England and its attempt to institute a democracy in Iraq after World War I. Despite England’s best efforts, Iraq eventually fell into disrepair and staged rebellions against English rule, Benjamin Foster said.

“No matter how sincere the country that is occupying the area is, history will criticize them harshly,” Foster said.

Anthropology professor Frank Hole, who attended the panel, said he thought the discussion offered some novel ideas.

“It was very informative and gave a good historical perspective,” Hole said.

Others said they felt the destruction and hopelessness of the situation in Iraq were overpowering.

“It was unremittingly depressing, but it raised a lot of good points,” Sonya Taaffe GRD ’09 said.

The discussion was a continuation of a panel the NELC Department presented last April.

A panel of Near Eastern Department faculty, including Benjamin Foster (seated), lead a panel discussion entitled
Zoe Pershing-Foley
A panel of Near Eastern Department faculty, including Benjamin Foster (seated), lead a panel discussion entitled "Iraq Beyond the Headlines II" in Linsly-Chittenden Hall Tuesday night. The participants accused the U.S. of aiding in the destruction of libraries and archaeological sites and slowing democratic development.

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