Iraq National Museum director dreams of peace

In his little office at Stony Brook University east of New York City, the former director of the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad has hung a maxim of Martin Luther King: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.” For seven months, Donny George and his family have tried to rebuild their life in the United States. Even as the radio plays American country music, their thoughts are always on Iraq.George and his family, Iraqi Christians, are among the scant 133 Iraqis who allowed to relocate to the United States since the beginning of 2007, according to government figures.

George, 56 and an expert in Mesopotamian archaeology, said the country needs to take in more.

“I believe 100 per cent that the United States should help the Iraqis that are outside and the ones inside who have left their homes. Specifically the Christians,” he told AFP.

“Both Sunnis and Shia are now attacking the Christians… They are going from door to door, ordering them to convert or pay a tax or leave or be killed.” He and his family fled Baghdad last year with just a few bags. A small man with a sweet smile and tired eyes, George said they decided to go after receiving an envelop containing a bullet said to be for his son, 17, who was accused of blaspheming Islam.

For months afterwards, George drove with a gun under his seat.

The museum had to be closed: it was too risky to go to work. He said his responsibilities were pared back by the tourism ministry, under the influence of the Shiite group led by radical cleric Moqtada Sadr.

Recruited by Stony Brook, he finally abandoned Iraq for this peaceful campus near the Long Island Sound about 90 kilometres from New York City.

“I’m happy here,” he says. “The main thing is to be safe. The family is adapting well.” His youngest son has just earned top marks in US history class, his daughter has entered pre-medical school, and his elder son is studying digital arts.

He,  meanwhile, indulges his love of jazz, of Stevie Wonder, in his car he plays Canadian country star Shania Twain.

“I really love the people here, there are wonderful people,” he said.

He has just come from a trip to the American Indian village of Taos Pueblo, New Mexico, where the settlement reminds this scholar of the ancient world of northern Iraq.

Still, his heart is back in Iraq, his Internet connection to back home always on. The the news is often bad.

“Today I learned that one of my students in Basra was killed,” he said, eyes welling with tears. “He had asked to be transferred to Basra because Baghdad is more dangerous.” On the wall is a picture of another student, killed in April in a car bomb attack.

Meanwhile, he dreams of reopening the National Museum with a grand ball.

“There would be at least 1,000 guests from all over the world, in the garden inside… There would be a quartet of Iraq national music, a quartet of classical chamber music, and Iraqi food.”

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