jeudi 25 juin 2009

Remembering Layla Al-Attar

Malcom Lagauche

June 24, 2009Many countries have one or two days a year that indicate a national tragedy. In the U.S., December 7, 1941, the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, is labeled a "day of infamy." Almost 60 years later, September 11, 2001 surpassed December 7 as a rallying cry for U.S. solidarity.

Iraq, a country much smaller than the U.S., and never as large a player on the international scene, can claim several days of infamy: January 17, 1991 (the beginning of Desert Storm); February 14, 1991 (the destruction of the Amiryah Bomb Shelter); March 20, 2003 (the start of the U.S. illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq); and April 9, 2003, (U.S. forces enter Baghdad) among others. But, one date that gains little international attention is imbedded in the hearts and minds of most Iraqis: June 26, 1993.

On that date, the U.S. military, under the command of Bill Clinton, ordered 23 Tomahawk guided missiles to demolish the headquarters of the Mukhabarat, the Iraqi intelligence services, in central Baghdad. Twenty of the missiles hit the agency complex, while "only" three missed their targets.

A jubilant Clinton took to the airwaves and proclaimed victory. He was happy that only three missed their mark. One could think he was addressing the public about the score of a sporting event.

Of the three that missed, one destroyed the home of Layla al-Attar, killing her and her husband, and blinding her daughter.

Layla al-Attar was the director of the Iraqi National Art Museum and a leading Arab artist who was revered in Iraq much the same as Norman Rockwell was in the U.S. In addition, she was a spokesperson for international peace, for the inner peace of women, and for resistance against U.S. hegemony. Layla al-Attar symbolized Iraq.

When news of al-Attar’s death broke, Iraq mourned. A special person who transcended political ideology and represented all of humankind had been assassinated.

During the Gulf War, her home was almost totally destroyed by U.S. missiles. Two years later, shortly after the completion of the house’s reconstruction, an "errant" missile finished the job that its cousin had only partially performed in earlier years.

Although never proven, it is quite easy to give credence to the theory that Layla al-Attar was the target of a missile, not merely a casualty of "collateral damage" from a misguided projectile. Every Iraqi believes she was marked, but shortly after her execution, the rest of the world forgot.

Outside the Arab world, Layla al-Attar was on the verge of becoming a top international artist. European art galleries were beginning to highlight her work. In the U.S., however, she was little known. Little international outrage was heard when she was killed.

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