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Archive Threats Come Home to U.S.

Robert Fisk writes in the London Independent newspaper: "So yesterday was the burning of books: first came the looters, then the arsonists. It was the final chapter in the sacking of Baghdad. The National Library and Archives ? a priceless treasure of Ottoman historical documents, including the old royal archives of Iraq ? were turned to ashes in 3,000 degrees of heat. Then the library of Korans at the Ministry of Religious Endowment were set ablaze." Could it happen here? The impulse to destroy archives runs deep among people who would like to alter history to fit their beliefs. The National Archives and Records Administration is reporting an upsurge in threats against U.S. National Archives, and wants to tighten their regulations.

While professional art gangs were stealing valuable items from the Baghdad museum, Islamic extremists took the opportunity to shatter images of human beings, as well as ancient texts of historical facts that happened before the prophet Mohammed was born, believing these to be a desecration of their religion. Korans that were written after Mohammed's death were destroyed for the same reason. Archaeologist John Russell of the Massachusetts College of Art says, "Long after Saddam Hussein is forgotten, long after the oil is gone, people will remember this destruction of the world's greatest archive of the human past."

Just as several groups with different agendas destroyed the Iraqi National Museum and archives, threats to U.S. archives appear to come from both religious and political extremists, such as those who are opposed to the Patriot Act.

The New York Times reports that some Republicans want to make the post-911 Patriot Act permanent, while others in Congress say the antiterrorism laws give the government too much power to spy on Americans. The legislation, passed in October 2001, expanded the government's power to use eavesdropping, surveillance, access to financial and computer records and other tools to track terrorist suspects. The law will expire at the end of 2005 unless Congress votes otherwise.

The proposed Kyl-Schumer measure would eliminate the need for federal agents seeking secret surveillance warrants to show that a suspect is affiliated with a foreign power or agent, like a terrorist group. "The Patriot Act has been an extremely useful tool, a demonstrated success, and we don't want that to expire on us," says a senior FBI official.Whether they're right or wrong, these powers make America a different kind of country than it has been in the past.

The National Archives and records administration has noted "an increased number of threats to the archives" in recent months, and proposes to add them as a "prohibited behavior." To read the proposed NARA rule, click here.

Government and religion have always been an unholy alliance.

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