- P. Applebome, "A
Vision for Saving Iraq by Preserving Bits of Babylon," in The New York Times, November 7,
2004: "There was the Iraq of the presidential campaign, a place, almost
an abstraction, that often seemed more about us than about them, where
all the casualty figures were American and big ideas of freedom and
democracy seldom seemed tied to the agony of a real place with real
people. And then sitting in a conference room at Stony Brook
University, there were Helen Malko, Zaid Ibraheem, Zainab Mohammed and
Lina Mahmod, all sharing a goal that seems, at the moment, so distant
as to be almost a hallucination. The four are Iraqis studying
archaeology under a grant from the United States Agency for
International Development, learning modern techniques they can use to
train a new generation of archaeologists and museum curators back home.
The hope is that one day Iraq's cultural treasures dating back 4,000
years will become tourist attractions similar to the pyramids of Egypt.
The war zone that is Iraq is, after all, where civilization began.
Elizabeth Stone, the Iraqis' teacher, reminds us that it was home to
the first cities, the first people who worked full time making pottery
and sculpture, where writing first captured the details and accounts of
everyday life, the first place to brew beer. So there's something at
once utterly rational and achingly quixotic in the program here, whose
roots, the students said, began with their own experiences, their own
awe, at the thousands of historic sites in Iraq, from Babylon and Kish
to Ur and Uruk, from Nippur to Zabalam, many of them now being looted
and despoiled." "In the meantime, the four, ranging in age from 24 to
31, roam the sprawling state university campus here, Ms. Mahmod and Ms.
Mohammed, scrupulously covered, Mr. Ibraheem and Ms. Malko blending in
with the other students, all of them studying archaeology, studying us
and studying us studying them." "And another hurdle looms. Dr. Stone
said she applied for the grant, with the understanding it would be a
three-year program, the time needed for a meaningful master's program.
But the money beyond the first year still has not been appropriated,
and she has been told that because of the disastrous course of the war,
education may be an unaffordable luxury and the money might go to
Photo: "Kirk Condyles for The New York Times. Zainab Mohammed,
foreground, and Zaid Ibraheem at Stony Brook University. The
archaeology students will share what they have learned when they return