Friday, 21 September 2007

the death of history

sometimes the past and the present collide.

sometimes it’s cause for celebration; a piece of the jigsaw positioned, the promise of revelation, the bigger picture revealed, but in reality only underlining the paradox of the remoteness and similarity between the contemporary and the past.

sometimes it’s cause for despair.

the face is a cipher, a universal sign. the classic newspaper device, the face tells an eternal story: the face of tutankhamen, agamemnon, lindow man. transcending words and language, the face portrays commonality, connectedness. it is used to herald everything from the new face of modelling, introduce a new product or brand, or announce a historic moment, a new dawn, a new discovery, a new beginning…

in stark contrast the melancholic face emblazoned on black across the whole front page of the independent this monday was in effect a state obituary; dramatic, theatrical, calling to mind a greek tragedy, which indeed it is: a powerful visual metaphor for the scale of the west's culpability and wilful determination to humiliate and obliterate a modern state and its people through a concerted frenzy of cultural vandalism.

modern iraq is in tatters, its people devastated, its future uncertain, its past eradicated, its antiquities looted, its monuments, museums, landmarks and cultural heritage reduced to rubble. a civilisation not only the cradle of the arab world but of the whole world, whose cities and monuments are the stuff of legend and old testament alike; mesopotamia, ninevah, the hanging gardens of babylon, the ziggurat of ur; we are all irrevocably impoverished by the loss of these wonders of the world.

you might think that it is at best naïve, at worst deplorable to express concern for the material remains of a nation when its people suffer and perish on a daily basis, that the plight of the living takes precedence over mere stuff, the tawdry baubles of history. but that would be the naïve interpretation: if nothing else, history has shown that after military conquest comes psychological conquest; the ‘tabula rasa’ or scorched earth strategy, the deliberate erasing of a nation through the annihilation of its memories, history and culture. the punic wars, perhaps the greatest ideological struggle of the ancient world, saw the romans finish off the carthaginians by reducing their lands, cities and sacred places to rubble, until nothing remained of their empire, until they were expunged from the earth and from memory.

early warnings by curators, archaeologists and historians, usually tucked away on late night cultural programmes and arts supplements, were followed by reports from journalists and even former us colonels such as bogdanos, blowing the whistle on the ‘blind eye’ policy of us and uk forces to the wholesale destruction and looting of iraq. but on the whole it was fairly easy to ignore or avoid the issue and the urgency of what this means for the future of iraq.

not any more. articles, books and reports are finally making front page daily news. naomi klein’s new book, the shock doctrine, exposes the ideology and dire consequences of the attempt to eradicate a nation, in order to create a new, more compliant one, and the following is an extract featured last week in the guardian.,,2166585,00.html

‘the message is “ you are no one, you are who we want you to be," the essence of dehumanisation. iraqis went through this unmaking process collectively, as they watched their most important institutions desecrated, their history loaded on to trucks and disappeared. the bombing badly injured Iraq, but it was the looting, unchecked by occupying troops, that did the most to erase the heart of the country that was’.

to klein, the invasion and subsequent occupation bear all the hallmarks of ‘a tried-and-tested torture technique: strike fear into your victims, deprive them of cherished essentials and then eradicate their memories’, evidence of a deliberate ‘clean slate’ policy, corroborated by rumsfeld’s nonchalant statement ‘stuff happens when you want to bring democracy’.

simon jenkins also makes sober reading, his conclusion grave -,,2098273,00.html

'though i opposed the invasion i assumed that its outcome would at least be a more civilised environment. yet Iraq's people are being murdered in droves for want of order. authority has collapsed. that western civilisation should have been born in so benighted a country as Iraq may seem bad luck. but only now is that birth being refused all guardianship, in defiance of international law. if this is Tony Blair's "values war", then language has lost all meaning. british collusion in such destruction is a scandal that will outlive any passing conflict. and we had the cheek to call the Taliban vandals'

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