April 19, 2003 | The New York Post

Selective Outrage

By Stephen Schwartz

I was as disturbed as any student of Near Eastern and Islamic history would be at the destruction of the National Library in Baghdad in the chaos following Iraq's liberation. I was hurt by the knowledge that ancient manuscripts, including priceless copies of Qur'an, had turned to ash.

But then the chattering classes commenced cackling like geese, and I remembered certain things – and my tears turned to rage.

A brace of U.S. diplomats, academics and functionaries have taken to media to condemn the Bush administration for letting the museum be looted and the library be gutted.

Of course I reject out of hand the attempt to ascribe blame to the coalition forces in cases of organized theft, as it now appears struck the museum, and of looting committed by mobs deranged by freedom.

But I remember other cultural monuments that burned – and the indifference of diplomats, academics, functionaries and media hacks when flames leapt up, consuming ancient manuscripts and irreplaceable books.

* In 1991, Serbian forces began their sustained attack on the Dalmatian city of Dubrovnik, since 1979 a designated UNESCO world heritage site, in its entirety. The town walls and numerous buildings were draped with banners “mandated by the Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict” (1954).

“No military targets were located on or within the walls of the Old Town,” in the words of the U.N. indictment drawn against the Serb commanders responsible for this act. Where were the diplomats, academics, functionaries and media weepers then? Many took the side of the Serbian aggressors.

* In 1992, Serbian forces committed a unique and unparalleled act of cultural destruction in the Bosnian city of Sarajevo: rocket attacks on the Oriental Institute and the National and University Library. First 5,000 original manuscripts and 20,000 manuscript archive items were reduced to ashes. Then the National and University Library burned for three days.

Almost 2 million irreplaceable books, periodicals and manuscripts were consumed. The old Turkish defterler (property registers) were destroyed. Virtually the entire cultural record of Bosnian secular Jewish life under the Ottomans was wiped out.

From that time on, I made it a personal mission to locate and rescue Bosnian Jewish books and other cultural memorabilia that had escaped the flames.

Put these facts in a broader context. Cold as it may seem, I must point out that the Baghdad library was not a unique institution located in a poor, obscure country. Numerous Arab states have outstanding libraries, including Morocco, Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Many of these countries are wealthy. Their rulers make a gift of a rare Qur'an when they wish to influence the government of a Muslim state.

So, as bad as the news from Baghdad may have been, it was not as dire or dreadful as the reality of Sarajevo: the destruction of that city's libraries was a form of cultural genocide, in which the historical record, the collective memory and the cultural resources of 5 million Balkan Muslims vanished forever.

Where were the chatterers then? Not only did the Western intellectual elites look passively at this spectacle, so did the corrupt leaders of the Arab dictatorships and their stooges among American Muslims.

* Serbs were not the only perpetrators of such vandalism. In 1993, Croat troops shelled the Old Bridge at Mostar, Hercegovina, into oblivion. This crime took place while U.N. troops and aircraft patrolled in and over Bosnia, observing fascist troops doing their dirty work. What was the reaction of the diplomats, academics, functionaries and commentators? Historic Mostar remains profoundly scarred.

* In Bosnia, 2,000 mosques were leveled by Serb and Croat terror, and cemeteries, Jewish as well as Muslim, were damaged. The Bosnian Muslim forces did not attack churches or synagogues or graveyards. That fascinating matter was never reported in the West; rather, the Army of the Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina was described as a mass of throat-cutting Muslim extremists.

But moral equivalence really kicked in during and after the Kosovo war. Serb terrorists then leveled 250 mosques. Then, after the U.S. intervention, Kosovar Albanians, like the Iraqi Kurds, took freedom as an opportunity for revenge, attacking some 110 Serb Orthodox churches. Guess who the chatterers leaped to condemn?

I hereby pledge to write a personal check to help restore the Baghdad library and museum to their past greatness – after the anti-American loudmouths donate to rebuild the lost cultural treasures of the Balkans.

Stephen Schwartz is the director of the Islam and Democracy Program at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.