Now the ruins of Babylon need urgent protection. The plunder and depredations of recent warfare and the passage of time have all conspired to put the city in literal danger of disintegration.
Babylon serves as a metaphor for the vicissitudes, both domestic and foreign, that have long affected Iraq. In the early 20th Century, under the British Mandate, a railway line was laid across the site of the ruins. Later Iraqi government restoration work was botched. Yet the destruction of the last twenty years, or so, is a direct consequence of the endemic conflict that has torn Iraq apart.
As such Babylon, the city that arose in the cradle of civilization, serves as a metaphor for the state of modern Iraq. US forces used the site as a helicopter landing site. Polish troops drove deep foundations into its many layered strata to build tall watchtowers. Such is the shattered and neglected state of Babylon that it has never received UNESCO World Heritage status.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given the terrible human toll and continuing suffering, the ancient cultural treasure of Iraq features pretty low in the everyday consciousness of its people. This was put succinctly in a recent article on the current state of Babylon for National Public Radio by Jane Arraf. ‘Iraqis don’t necessarily value their country’s archaeological sites. ‘You came from Baghdad to see these ruins and dust?’a surprised police man asks visitors at a security checkpoint.’
With the attention of successive weak Iraqi governments focused elsewhere Babylon’s neglect and decrepitude also remains low on the radar of decision makers. Yet, this should not be so. Iraq’s heritage is its essence. Renewal and regeneration are needed in Iraq. Pride in the country’s ancient roots should be curated. Pride in its great contributions to the world should be celebrated. After all, if the artifacts of Iraq’s ancient past were not so precious the recent cruel desecrations of ISIS would not hold so much power to shock and enrage.
It behooves the Iraqi government to attend to all aspects of renewal. The dusty ruins of Babylon lie at the core of this matter. The essential renewal requires Iraq’s leaders to turn again to the importance of its people, its history, its culture and its infrastructure. They must abandon their preoccupation with balancing the clamors of sectarian demands and acquiescing to Iranian interference.
A new, galvanized Iraq, will be confident of its own place in the world, proud of its great gift to history and independent in outlook, offering subservience to no other power. However, this can only be achieved if Iraq becomes a truly functioning democratic, secular and sovereign nation.