The End of History: Censorship and Libraries
Byrne, Alex, The Australian Library Journal
Libraries have vital roles in protecting heritage, offering individuals and societies opportunities to improve the quality of their lives, and contributing to civil society. They play an important role in the free exchange of ideas within societies and across time and space. Libraries can be damaged through war, looting and neglect. But more pervasive is the great variety of methods of information control by censorship which are given many justifications including decency, community well-being, privacy and national security. However, such views are contingent, not absolute as changing attitudes to pornography illustrate. Librarians face personal dilemmas which contend with professional responsibilities to meet the needs of users and to promote the widest possible access to information. Any librarians who might wish to uphold principles of unrestricted access to information must either accept the boundaries or struggle against them.
Manuscript received September 2003
Lost, destroyed, stolen ...
Marble figurines from Tell es-Sawwan (6000 BCE) Akkadian statue base (2000 BCE) Copper head of a ruler from Nineveh (2300 BCE) Assyrian stone statue (8000 BCE) Model chariot from Mesopotamia (1900-1600 BCE) Decorated alabaster vase from Warka (3000 BCE) Gold jewellery from Ur (2600-2400 BCE) Statue of Dud, prime minister of Lagash (2600-2300 BCE) Stone tools, sculptures and cawing (100 000 BCE) 80 000 cuneiform tablets, one with observations of the planet Venus (700 BCE ... (Fray 2003) The oldest extant pieces of writing in the world: the Gilgamesh Epic, the earliest work of literature in the world; the oldest versions of the Code of Hammurabi, the earliest law code in the world (Bilderback 2003) Letters between the court of Sharif Hussein of Mecca and the Ottoman rulers of Baghdad ... the Ottoman records of the Caliphate including: * requests to the Sublime Porte in Istanbul or to the Court of Sharif of Mecca; * lists of the cost of bullets, military horses and artillery for Ottoman armies in Baghdad and Arabia; * the opening of the first telephone exchange in the Hejaz; * the theft of clothes from a camel train by All bin Kassem, who attacked his interrogators 'with a knife and tried to stab them but was restrained and later bought off': * a 19th century letter of recommendation for a merchant, Yahyia Messoudi, "a man of the highest morals, of good conduct and who works with the government': Handwritten accounts of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, with personal photographs and military diaries, ... microfiche copies of Arabic newspapers ... (Fisk 2003)
The modern day sacking of Baghdad.
For Iraq, 2003 was 'Year Zero', with the destruction of the antiquities in the Museum of Archaeology and the burning of the National Archives and then the Koranic library, the cultural identity of Iraq was erased. Why? Who set these fires? For what insane purpose is this heritage being destroyed? (Fisk 2003). This was Arab history, the history of Islam, but also the history of Mesopotamia, the history of trade, the history of colonialism, the history of the world.
Is this the end of history?
Fukuyama, in his provocative work, The end of history and the last man, proposed that the spread of the liberal democratic model was irreversible. He argued that history is being driven in a coherent direction by rational desire and a recognition that is taking states to a post-historical position in which liberal democracy is the final form of government. If that process should continue, then 'the apparent differences between peoples' "languages of good and evil" will appear to be an artifact of their particular state of historical development' (Fukuyama 1992).
Whatever the merits of his argument, the destruction of heritage in Baghdad has been a clear example of wrong. …