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Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Museum Of Lost Objects

BBC World Service - The Documentary, The Museum Of Lost Objects: Palmyra

"[On Russia flying in an orchestra to play in Palmyra] I really felt it was ridiculous. It was ridiculous in terms of the continuous tragedy of Syria. I mean, let's assume that you are in the BBC going to give the Syrian news 30 seconds today. They stole those 30 seconds from the hundreds of people that were killed that day...

[On Boris Johnson's replica of part of Palmyra] Nasser feels this zeal for restoration misses the point.

'I do not think that reconstructing the temple would be the best way of honouring its memory. And if the idea is to actually create a Palmyra, let's do a Disney Palmyra somewhere else. There's no value to reconstructing fake monuments in an authentic site. Perhaps what I'm saying is a bit of an extreme opinion and perhaps there is a way of reconstructing something but also the difference is that Palmyra was always in ruins. We have to allow it to age and to die. We have to allow it to turn into ruins. Even if it's actually by a wanton act of criminality as what Daesh did in Palmyra.'

Let ruins be ruins. In that case, should we do nothing in the face of the cultural destruction?...

'My dream would be to reconstruct them using only the pieces that remain'...

'The very very earliest figures, representations of leaders we have in Mesopotamia from around 3500 BC. One of the key things they do is also fight lions. They're not shown fighting, killing other people because that's almost demeaning. They have to have a lion who is the only real sort of, not quite equal but near rival because they're incredibly powerful and sort of unpredictable'

From the imagery of Babylonian and Assyrian kings to Islamic miniatures of the medieval and early modern period, we find scenes of the hunt. Of brave princes struggling with lions. The lion was both regal and untameable. The quintessence of strength and Man's ultimate opponent. So much of the male Kingly obsession with the lion had to do with imagining its destruction.

In modern Syria, there is no escaping the lion. The last name of Syria's ruling dynasty, Al-Assad means the Lion. It features prominently on the regime's propaganda. One slogan goes 'Syria and Al-Assad for eternity after eternity'. But the family name only became Al-Assad a few generations ago...

Saddam posing like an Assyrian king. He is on an Assyrian chariot, led by two horses and the horses are trampling on a lion that must have been killed by Saddam with an arrow on it... there he is, Saddam pointing his bow and arrow at... American missiles and a helicopter"

BBC World Service - The Documentary, The Museum Of Lost Objects, Bombed and Bulldozed in Syria

"[Al-Mari's] deep skepticism about organised religion led him to critique both Islam and Christianity, to imagine Mohammed shouting from a minaret and Jesus banging a bell. Al-Mari suggested that religion was just sound and fury, signifying very little.

'He was someone who doubted all the received wisdom and the received religions around him. And you have to remember if you lived in 970, 980 which is when he was a young man, in the area where he lived, you were not surrounded only by Sunni Muslims. But you had all the Christian churches in huge numbers, I would say in huge proportion and also you had all the splinter group from Islam, namely the Alawis that rule Syria today were staring to appear then. But also you had the Ismailis. And then you had the Sunnis and you had the Shia.

So he lived already in a multiple faith environment and reflected on if you want the stupidity of all of these followers of the different faith in terms of fighting over what he thought of as undeserving of the fighting, his importance if you want in his poetry is that he knew his Islam. This is not someone who is coming from outside.

And he basically started questioning the validity of the claim that this is divine. Now of course if you say that today you lose your life. And as a matter of fact you don't need to be in ISIS land to lose your life for that"

BBC World Service - The Documentary, The Museum Of Lost Objects, Looted in Iraq

"I feel as an Iraqi, there is not a lot in our modern history to be very proud of. So for many Iraqis we draw a lot on our ancient history, on the history of Mesopotamia, home to the first civilisations of the world. I feel very proud...

[On sculpture] The big curly beard is also a sign of virility and the beards kind of got smaller and less complicated as you got less important...

[On a Nimrud Genie head locked away in Scotland Yard] Its looting may have prevented its destruction...

Gilgamesh and his companion Enkidu are aggressors, ecological thieves. They come to Humbaba's forest to take its timber back to their treeless homeland in Mesopotamia. In this newly discovered tablet of the epic, we find remarkably a sense that the heroes of the tale were in the wrong... it points to the ambiguity of the Gilgamesh epic.

In so many other ancient epics like the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf for example, we find a black and white world: a clear binary of good and evil. In Gilgamesh there is plenty of grey...

'You can think of archaeology as kind of like crime scene investigation in the ancient past, so what you want is not just the knife but the knife on the floor next to the blood splatter with the footprints and the, you know, if someone just turns up at the police station and hands them a knife. And it's like look I found this knife. Aren't you guys always collecting knives? They'd be like, no, not really but okay, thanks'...

Lamia describes how Arab friends had a hard time accepting that Baghdadis were responsible for the looting of their own treasures.

'Literally I had a telephone from Algeria... right across the Arab world... everyone had its own theory of who looted the museum... I started doing statistics.

So it depends whom you don't like. Was it the Americans? Was it the Israelis? Was it the Kuwaitis?... they never ever accused the actual people in Baghdad that looted it'"
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