Here we go again. Amidst political upheaval and social disorder, a nation’s priceless cultural treasures bear the brunt of the angst. We saw this happen in Afghanistan in 2001, when the Taliban ordered the destruction of all Buddhist statues in the region; including one that – at 2,000 years of age and 165 feet tall – was the oldest and biggest replica of the prophet in the world. We saw it occur just this past spring in Mali where rebels torched two buildings holding ancient manuscripts; some dating to the 13th century A.D.
Now Egypt’s famous Malawi National Museum has fallen victim to the “Arab Spring.” Last week looters stormed into the internationally-renowned museum and damaged or destroyed scores of artifacts. In an official statement, the government has blamed supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood for causing the damage. Museum authorities are still surveying the mess and compiling a list in an attempt to prevent other artifacts from being smuggled out of the country and possibly sold in the underground antiquities market.
At this point in the debacle, does it really matter who’s responsible? What does the government intend to do if it – and this is just a wild-ass guess – if it actually manages to bring someone to trial? In the bitter world of politics and ethnic clashes, a nation’s artistic and cultural legacies somehow always get caught in the crossfire. Looking at these photos, it’s tough to understand what can be done to rectify the calamity.