Give the Trinity River Back to the Salmon

Fairy tales often have a universal appeal and draw children of all nations into their magical world. Pinocchio is no exception where the Blue Fairy rewards moral behavior and grants a puppet flesh-and-blood status.

I do doubt, however, that children in Iraq or Afghanistan could understand why an inanimate, man-made object would ever want to be a child of the flesh and blood kind. In their world, the flesh of children is there for the maiming and the blood for flowing –unlike those beautiful, sacrosanct objects of art which must be preserved and doted on.

As the British Independent reports, “an international band of curators and historians anxious not to repeat the damage inflicted on Iraqi treasures during the Gulf War 11 years ago are appealing to the American government to take the historic sites into account.” (<http://www.commondreams.org/headlines02/1107-04.htm>)

A similar surge of concern was observed when, about six months before the 9/11 attacks, Afghanistan made a brief appearance in the news. The world was outraged then, but not because hundreds of thousands children’s lives were flickering away in refuges camps where lack of education, food, and opportunities stole away their childhood and diseases and lack of medical care made sure many never grow into adults. The world was not outraged because the Taliban regime was denying medical care to women (and children) by not allowing women healthcare workers to work and men to take care of women. The outrage was not that the United States had pushed the U.N. to slap economic sanctions on the country -because of its refusal to turn over Osama bin Laden- that made things worse for the worst off, the poorest, the most vulnerable in the country (according to some estimates, the sanctions increased the price of basic medicines up to 50%) without providing leverage or means to make things better.

It was the 1,400-year-old Buddha statues carved into the mountainside at Bamiyan that triggered the heart-rending cries of concern. The New York Times (03/19/01) reported that Taliban envoy Rahmatullah Hashimi explained that the decision was made after an international NGO offered money to restore the statues but refused to allow the money to be used in refugee camps — where 300 children had just died. Hashimi recounted that the NGO was asked that “instead of spending money on statues, why didn’t they help our children who are dying of malnutrition?” Upon being told that “this money is only for statues”, they decided to destroy them.

Germany, Malaysia and Japan joined Russia, India, United States, Egypt and others to decry the barbarity. Offers poured in: money to restore the statues, money to remove the statues for safekeeping somewhere else, money to change the rulers’ minds. Money that had not been pouring in for the refugee camps, for food, for clean water.

Now the world’s archeologists and curators are afraid a similar outrage will occur to the historical artifacts in Iraq. The Independent quotes Helen McDonald, of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq, based at Cambridge University, who explained that last time the Iraqis had tried to move a great deal of their most important objects out into storage in the countryside and that they have already begun to do so again.

“But some things are immovable, such as huge stones. If a bomb hits a museum or something, that would be it,” she said.

Sure enough, she notes, “The British School of Archaeology in Iraq has written [about this]. They wrote to the Foreign Office during the Gulf War to express concern, not just on the humanitarian grounds but the effects that it would have on the culture.”

Bombing of stones isn’t the only potential cause of horrors, according to Charles Tripp, of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. He warns that in the wake of the Gulf War, sanctions had inadvertently caused as much damage to the archaeological sites of Iraq as direct attack. Trip notes: “The conditions of poverty had led to much looting of archaeological sites and site museums, which often contained significant finds even after the best items were removed to Baghdad. Numerous finds have turned up on the art market in the West.” Dr Tripp observes that “there is a lot of temptation in a destitute country to rip something out that has a saleable value in the West.”

Yes, especially since UNICEF reports that at least half a million children have died due to those sanctions. (<http://www.scn.org/ccpi/HarpersJoyGordonNov02.html>) I can imagine parents looting and prying loose every single stone, rock, tablet, gem or otherwise inanimate object in that country to try to obtain food or simple medicines.

It has been reported that when a journalist asked Mahatma Gandhi what he thought about Western Civilization, he replied, “it would be a good idea.”

Indeed, it would be a good idea; unfortunately, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to muster that up in short order so we need a more serious, urgent and miraculous intervention.

We need the Blue Fairy who turned Pinocchio into flesh to perform a reverse miracle.

So here goes.

Please, Blue Fairy, turn the children of Iraq into stone. The older the stone better. Stone with cracks and signs of aging and weather damage would be perfect. Hopefully, that will evoke some protective reflexes and caring in their direction.

And, Blue Fairly, while you are at it, please do the same for the children of Afghanistan which is once again facing famine since the investment required and promised has not been delivered, and the children of Southern Africa which is in the midst of a progressing famine due to the drought which might have been triggered partly by global warming, and the children in Central America which is now threatened by famine thanks to the crisis in the coffee industry which never paid farmers more than a pittance of their enormous profit.

If Blue Fairy does not come through, I encourage the Iraqis to start their own make-a-wish foundation, which grants wishes to children with terminal illnesses. Of course, in Iraq, because of the sanctions, easily curable diseases like cholera and treatable childhood problems like leukemia are often terminaland then there are the congenital birth defects in the depleted-uranium-polluted south.

That make-a-wish foundation should take those children, whose childhood we have collectively destroyed, to the precious museums and let them play with all those precious stones and tablets. The children should paint them with indelible ink. They should throw them to the ground from high buildings to see from which floor they pulverize most easily. They should be encouraged to play team games and see which team can hammer a tablet into dust fastest.

Maybe, just maybe, what must surely be the collective wish of all those children and their families will come true. Maybe, amidst the predictable outrage over crushed stone, the world will notice them.

And maybe, just maybe, the biggest miracle of all will happen without the Blue Fairy — our hearts of stone will turn into flesh and blood.

ZEYNEP TOUFE is a doctoral student in Austin, Texas. She can be reached at <zeynep@tao.ca>


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