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Another Explanation for Iraqi Looting

Reader comment on item: [Looting:] An Iraqi Tragedy

Submitted by Paul Strohl (United States), Apr 22, 2003 at 11:52

Dr. Pipes, I enjoy your column immensely, and in particular your courageous assaults on the neo-Stalinists who parade as "experts" in Middle Eastern studies. Having survived seven years in so-called Ivy League schools, I know too well the madness that underlies their doctrines, and their intolerance of differing viewpoints. Hang in there.

With respect to your column on Iraqi looting, I wonder if there might not be an alternative possibility: that key figures in the regime (as opposed to the typical Baghdad man in the street) deliberately destroyed Iraqi cultural treasures in order to delay or even to destroy the possibility of reconstructing Iraq on the basis of its past. Surely, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for the treasures to have been unlocked by ordinary people, or even criminals, if, as one would expect, the keys were in the hands of the Baath. As you correctly point out, similar looting, perpetrated by the Iraqi high command, took place in Kuwait during the first Gulf War. That raises the question, however, of why the Iraqi ruling class would loot its own treasurers.

Greed is an obvious motive, of course, and surely the Baath were hoping that the Americans would be blamed. (Unfortunately, your article indicates that this strategy worked, at least among some benighted members of the U.S. chattering classes.) But it is also true that totalitarian movements such as the Baath are frequently enemies of history, and often seek to destroy all traces of the past, because its existence is at best an impediment to total control, and in many cases can serve as an unwelcome reminder of the better days that existed before the regime seized power. Above all, the past could confer legitimacy on political structures, customs and cultural practices the existence of which could assist in the process of rebuilding Iraqi government and culture. Orwell's "memory hole" expresses a profound truth about totalitarian regimes, and may explain, better than any other hypothesis, why the looting took place, and who did it.

All best regards,
Submitting....

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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