Tuesday, August 18, 2009

WWB: destruction of culture

WHAT WAR BRINGS: the destruction of a culture

Having a war and occupation in your town, city, province means that the area – and the people who live within – will be forever changed. Journalist Dahr Jamail makes the claim that the US in Iraq became the dominant culture, and that the Iraqi people had no choice but to accommodate them. He called it “Colonizing Culture”. He also claims that this same reality is coming to Afghanistan, only it is multi-national forces, not just American forces.

As per Dahr Jamail:

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the dominant culture for a while now has been the US military. Since it has all the firepower and the brute force, it sets the norms and the standard. This is done by repeated suggestions through propaganda, and advertisements suggesting that the local population is of lesser worth than the occupiers of their country in their appearance, their beliefs, their customs and their way of life.

In this invasion and occupation, resistance is deemed as “insurgency” ---- now, imagine if a foreign military came to the USA and destroyed and disrupted our lives. The resistance would not be called ‘insurgents’ they would be called ‘heroes’.

Destruction of culture means more than the destruction of buildings and of a country’s military. It means the subjugation of a people, the destruction of their history, art, architecture, customs and standards of behavior. It means changing the very self-perception of the people who are being occupied. One small example of this is the giving of backpacks to Iraqi school children. The backpacks have US flags on them, and some of them have Barbie on them.

A larger example is the systemic destruction of literature, art and architecture. With the destruction of infrastructure, there is destruction of education, and thereby another destruction of culture and one of the transmitters of culture.

With the destruction of families, in that family members are killed, or become refugees, or go missing, there is further destruction of culture. And when the entire family becomes refugees, the culture of the family is changed significantly. Community processes and cultural events are left behind in the wake of destruction.

Dahr Jamail further reports on the destruction of culture in the invasion and occupation of Iraq:

My artist friends in Baghdad have reported,

"The occupation forces encouraged the rebels to loot museum and libraries. Five thousand years of history and art were irretrievably lost in hours. It is a loss for the world, not Iraq alone. Buildings can be fixed, so can electricity, but where can I find another Khalid al-Rahal to make me a new statue for Abu Fafar al-Mansoor? How will I replace the artifacts dating back to thousands of years? Iraq is altered forever."

I have heard from ordinary men and women in Iraq, "We need our art, because it connects us with what has brought us here, and reminds us of where we are headed." Dr. Saad Eskander has been director general of whatever remains of Iraq's National Archive and Library and he says, "This building was burned twice, and looted. We have lost sixty percent of our archival collections like maps, historical records and photographs. Twenty-five percent of our books were lost ... It has crippled our culture, and culture reaches to the bottom of peoples' hearts, whereas politics do not."

It is not difficult to see that the extent of devastation caused by the invasion and occupation of Iraq goes beyond loss of life, livelihood and property. The historical and cultural roots of the nation have been destroyed.

Journalist Anthony Shadid talks about what Baghdad is like today. Well known landmarks are pockmarked by bullets, spider webs of electrical wires obscure the view, and navigation is disrupted by blast walls.

"It's all become trash, broken windows and crumbling buildings," complained Hussein Karim, a porter looking out from his perch atop a flap of cardboard on the statue's granite pedestal. "Baghdad," added his friend, Hussein Abed, "has become a shattered city."

….. In time, though, those walls may matter less than the deeper forces that six years of an American presence hastened. Baghdad is now a city divided from itself. Shiite neighborhoods rarely have Sunnis. Sunni ones, far less numerous today, no longer have Shiites. Christians have all but left.

Shadid also claims that the impact of the war on Baghdad has spread to the Arab world’s greatest capitals. They are all receding behind walls (real and psychological) and losing the grace and ease that was present just a few short years ago. He says this:

The Americans created none of it, but facilitated all of it, giving space to the region's worst impulses.

Little of Baghdad’s antiquity has survived. Their culture of families going to ice cream shops and coffee shops, of friends hanging out in bookstores and engaging in long conversations, have been drastically altered in the last six years.

Here is a report from McClatchy’s on a village called Yasser al Khuthayer:

Each home was reduced to charred walls and rubble. Waleed had spent everything to furnish the room he'd shared with his wife, which was connected to his brothers' room by an open courtyard. He showed me where his bed had been and proudly described the beautiful wooden dresser he'd bought and the large marriage bed his family had helped him buy.

For a month, he'd come here and weep.

Yas pointed to one destroyed building where five people were killed. Two more people were killed next door, and then another three, and the stories go on. All around me were the broken pieces of what had been. At one home, broken dishes rimmed with pink flowers littered the debris where a family once gathered to eat. The blue shelves of the kitchen were charred by fire. Outside, ornate bricks lined the abandoned path in the garden. Nearby, a dusty remnant of a rug peeked out from a pile of broken bricks.

Of course, destruction of culture and lives is not limited to Iraq. It is happening in Afghanistan also.

Granai: the murder of an Afghan village

A first bomb hit the centre of the village and a second landed in a compound one kilometre to the south. In their panic, women and children headed to a compound in the north of the village, away from the site of the first two strikes. This group numbered some 100 people from around 15 families. At 9.12pm they were struck by a 2,000 pound guided bomb dropped by a B-1B strategic bomber.

In less than half an hour 147 innocents were dead – the biggest single loss of civilian life since the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan. The response from the population was immediate. A riot erupted in nearby Farah City. A furious crowd surrounded and broke the windows of the regional governor’s house. The following Saturday angry students marched through the capital Kabul chanting, “The blood of Farah will never dry”.

In both Iraq and Afghanistan, they had a history and a culture that is older than our history and culture by thousands of years (I am not including the culture of the Native Americans, since that too was destroyed by aggression).

The destruction in Baghdad, after the arrival of US troops, of the museums and libraries and archives, were an unmitigated disaster for the entire world. There was so much history and culture lost, in just a short time.

It is so much easier to destroy than to build, and what took centuries to build was sometimes destroyed in a day.

And in Babylon, the US military presence did further damage to historical sites there.

Hired Hands

Channel 4 News broadcast the thoughts of a US Marine on broad issues of strategy: “We’ll unleash the dogs of hell, we’ll unleash ‘em... They don’t even know what’s coming - hell is coming! If there are civilians in there, they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.” (Sergeant Sam Mortimer, US Marines, Channel 4 News, November 8, 2004)

If you support the continued occupation of Iraq or Afghanistan, or the bombing of Pakistan, then you support WHAT WAR BRINGS: the destruction of culture.

This video is about Gaza, but it certainly applies to all war zones: “Hell on Earth”

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