Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Donnie George Involved in Looting of Kuwait Museum?

Dr. Donnie George has become an icon to many in the archaeological community. Organizations like SAFE (and the AIA I believe) have honored him with awards.

That is why this recent comment from Dr. Dorothy King (PhDiva) on a blog I did some time back about the looting of the Kuwait Museum deserves greater exposure. See:
http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2010/06/kuwait-museums-missing-treasures.html

Apparently, Dr. George indicated to Dr. King that he was involved in rounding up artifacts from the Kuwait Museum and private collections after Saddam's invasion of Kuwait for transfer back to Bagdhad for "safekeeping."

I suppose Dr. George was "just following orders" from Saddam's henchmen, but ironies abound when one reads this from a SAFE story about the award he received from that organization:

Dr. George...has devoted a large part of his scholarly career to raising awareness of the problems of looted antiquities. He had a long, notable career as an archaeologist in Iraq before being appointed Director-General of Research and Studies at the Iraq Museum in Baghdad in 2000. In 2003 he witnessed firsthand the catastrophic looting of the Museum, and has since become a voice for the effort to recapture the Museum’s stolen artifacts, and the restitution of cultural property in general.

See http://www.savingantiquities.org/event.php?eventID=83

Perhaps people in glass houses really shouldn't throw stones.

Addendum: Dr. George's side of the story has been placed on David Gill's like-minded, "Looting Matters" blog: See http://lootingmatters.blogspot.com/2010/08/donny-george-and-kuwait.html Despite Dr. George's protestations that all was done in accordance with international law, does anyone really believe that Saddam's Baathist regime intended to give everything back voluntarily after the end of hostilities had Iraq prevailed in the First Gulf War? Or is it more likely Saddam's government [which Dr. George willingly served at the time] intended to take the same path as past conquerors like Hitler, Stalin, Napoleon, etc?

Addendum II: Dorothy King has offered additional comments on this story on her own "PhDiva" blog: http://phdiva.blogspot.com/2010/08/looting-of-kuwaiti-museums.html [One should take particular note of the difference between Dr. King's understandings about George's involvement with official looting of private collections in Kuwait and George's current statement that he was not involved in such activities.]

Here is the text of her comments:

Some sort of a tempest in a tea cup is going on about Donny George's role in the Iraqi looting of Kuwait, and David Gill has even felt the need to issue a press release. I'm a little surprised that this has become an issue again.

I interviewed Donny George way back in 2006, and asked him about it; he told me, in front of a British Museum employee and on tape, his own account of his role in the Iraqi looting of Kuwaiti Museums.

It was old news at the time, and many of us were aware of the fact that Dr George had helped pack up the collections (museum and private) in Kuwait in 1990. It wasn't news to me. It wasn't news to the British Museum employee. And when I wrote up the related conference going on in London for Minerva Magazine, it wasn't news to the editor, who didn't think it was worth including in the summary (available online here).

Yes, Donny George was very much involved in the Iraqi looting of Kuwaiti cultural property. No, Dr George's life is not whiter than white, but then again whose is? He's been working in the real world rather than an Ivory Tower, and so he has had to get his hands dirty over the years. Oh, and let's not forget that Saddam Hussein was in charge of Iraq at the time - so Dr George wouldn't really have been able to say 'no' ... Obviously I wish that the contents of the private collections had been as scrupulously returned as those of the Museum, but it was not to be. The man is not perfect, but he was just obeying orders, and sometimes that's the only option people feel they have.