Tuesday, August 12, 2008

on the Baath Party archives

Jon Weiner has an op-ed in the LA Times calling for the return of the Baath Party archives to Baghdad. (They were taken/saved by Kanan Makiya in 2003 - Weiner details their different homes) and are now at the Hoover Institute at Stanford. (Makiya teaches at Brandeis). Weiner is upset that the archives are being held in the United States, because they belong to Iraq ... and, in response to Makiya's contention that the archives are not safe there, he says that it is the responsibility of the occupying power to keep them safe. (Which, he doesn't have to point out, although he does, was one thing that the United States failed to do in 2003).

I think Weiner oversimplifies the dilemma in his discussion. He says the archives belong in Iraq because Iraqis need to know their own history in order to reconstruct their society as something better. True. But Makiya clearly feels that way as well. His foundation, the Iraqi Memory Foundation, was established to do just that - record the events of Saddam Hussein's reign. Where Weiner and Makiya differ is on who they believe should take responsibility for the archives. Weiner sides with the government of Iraq and its ministry of culture, who want the archives back. Makiya, I imagine, believes that the archives aren't yet safe in those hands. What he's doing - keeping the archives in a foreign country at a private institution - isn't necessarily selfishly motivated. It's more like vigilante justice - the GOI isn't equipped to be responsible for the archives, so he is taking on the task of keeping them intact for a time when Baghdad can handle the responsibility.

Weiner's whole argument is predicated on the notion that the archives will be dealt with in a manner he thinks appropriate once they return to Iraq. Maybe they will be. But if they are not, if they are returned and then destroyed, then his assertion that Makiya's managing them was wrong might take on a different color.

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