CAIRO AND BAGHDAD: SOME DISTURBING PARALLELSMarch 16, 2011
As you can probably tell, I am haunted this week by the looting of Egypt's antiquities, and the mysteries that it raises. Something does not "feel" right about all of it, not the least of which are its disturbing parallels to the Baghdad Museum Looting. Consider this article first posted by Reuters in 2003 about the infamous theft of objects - and possibly other things - from Baghdad, that was posted on famous radio celebrity Jeff Rense's website:
Observe that one short sentence: "The museum also held tablets of cuneiform writing that still had to be translated." In the reporting of the looting and recovery of objects, the museum's untranslated tablets were quickly forgotten as attention focused on the "sexier" story of priceless ancient objects of art. There's no want of articles on the museum looting in Baghdad, but the trouble is, little if any of it ever mentions the tablets, whether any of them were stolen, or recovered. The focus has always been on the art works. We have heard next to nothing about the theft of cuneiform tablets.
Consider the following article:
Note the date on that article: September 7, 2010! Note carefully also that the vast bulk of the article is concerned with the theft and return of objects of art, but that, at the very end, comes the curious mention of cuneiform tablets:
"The director of the Iraq Museum, Amira Edan, said 35,000 pieces have been returned since 2003. Dr. Edan said she was still trying to retrieve looted cuneiform tablets being held by the Spanish government, which has said it requires more proof that they belong to Iraq."
One can read US Marine Colonel Bogdanovich's book on the Baghdad Museum looting, and indeed, most of the early media reporting of the incident, and look almost in vain for any mention whatsoever of the theft of cuneiform tablets. Indeed, this article is one of the first I have encountered - doubtless there are others - in my attempts to track down the theft of tablets, and this mention occurs almost 7 years after the fact! In that amount of time, the tablets could have been cataloged and translated, so why are we not told of the contents in an article otherwise illustrating particular details about other looted objects?
For that matter, why were cuneiform tablets looted at all if the sole purpose of looting Iraq of its antiquities was financial gain? Cuneiform tablets would fetch much less money than, say, a thousands' years' old statue of Inanna. And why and how did such tablets end up in the possession of the Spanish government? And how many more tablets were looted? And where are they?
Questions such as this only highlight to my mind the suspicious nature of the whole Iraq looting incident, for the media early on seemed obsessed with the art objects, while to my mind the real story lay in the theft of the tablets and the possible knowledge they contained... and who might ultimately have been behind their theft. It is noteworthy that the art treasures seem to be eagerly returned, but the lowly cuneiform tablets - scratchings on clay - are disputed and Iraq is left to prove they were stolen in the first place before they will be returned! And this, when most people know that the Baghdad Museum had well over 100,000 such tablets, which had not been translated (and many may not have even been cataloged). The motivation that most readily suggests itself not only for their original theft, but for the reticence to return them, is to posses and monopolize the possible knowledge contained on them.
In the wake of the Baghdad Museum looting we were told it was "an inside job" and speculations reigned - even in the Middle East Quarterly - that the looting was an "inside job" perpetrated by the remnants of the Baath regime of Saddam Hussein. Attention focused on the "sexy" aspects of the story: the theft of priceless objects of art, and their return. Nothing, to this day, has been adequately recounted concerning the theft of tablets, except - oh yea, seven years after the fact - the were some tablets taken as well.
The parallel to Egypt here amazes me, for the concentration is once again on looted objects of art, and allegations of an inside job - this time by Dr. Zahi Hawass and elements of the old regime - while it was Hawass himself, as I noted two days ago, who alerted us that more than objects of art have been looked, that "inscribed blocks" of some sort were also taken. But inscribed blocks, like cuneiform tablets, are not "sexy." But if I am right, that someone, somewhere, is looking not for art, but for knowledge, then the real story in Egypt, as in Iraq, is being entirely overlooked... perhaps deliberately.