Music Struggles to Drown Out War in Iraq

Member had prized violin smashed during house raid.

ByABC News
April 22, 2007, 4:21 PM

BAGHDAD, May 20, 2007 — -- Ordinary people are being killed in Iraq at the rate of 100 a day, according to the United Nations. But recently, there was another casualty of the violence that was almost as shocking, perhaps because the victim was an inanimate object.

The Baghdad Symphony Orchestra is a phenomenon, an anomaly, an anachronism, in a country on the brink of civil war. It meets twice a week for rehearsals and performs whenever and wherever it can. The American-educated director, Karim Wasfi, has had many death threats, and so have many of the musicians. But Wasfi has a dream: To use music as a weapon against the bombs and the bullets.

"I don't believe it's all kidnapping and car bombings, and killings and atrocities that work in Iraq," said Karim. "I think that culture and music is also working."

To see Hilary Brown's report on the Baghdad Symphony Orchestra and the challenge art faces in Iraq, watch "World News" this evening. Check your local listings for air time.

The orchestra plays all kinds of music -- not just Bach, Beethoven and Brahms but also George Gershwin and American jazz. Incredibly, only one musician has lost his life in the violence since the war. But recently, one of them lost something almost as precious.

Mohammed Qassim plays the violin -- a beautiful 19th century violin that he bought in Czechoslovakia 25 years ago and has treasured ever since. But in a raid on his apartment building by U.S. and Iraqi soldiers, his priceless instrument was taken out of its case and smashed to pieces.

"The whole apartment was in a complete mess," said Qassim, his face twisted in pain. "It reflected some basic hatred by these people. Some extremist soldier says, 'What's this?' and then goes, 'Bang! Bang! Bang!' and just leaves it."

Qassim picked up the splintered remnants of his lovely violin, which he still keeps inside its case. He cannot bear to throw it away, though it's beyond repair. Could he get any compensation?

"When you lose something that has spiritual value, it's difficult to compensate," he said with a bitter smile.