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Barbara's Column
March 2003 #4

Mesopotamia, land of childhood fantasies,
is now a killing field

by Barbara Anderson


The Salem News
Friday, March 27, 2003

"Oh I come from a land, from a faraway place
Where the caravan camels roam
Where it's flat and immense, and the heat is intense
It's barbaric, but hey, it's home."

-- "Arabian Nights," from Walt Disney's "Aladdin"

Yes, Iraq is home -- the birthplace of civilization, the fertile land of Mesopotamia where it all began and where some part of it may seem to be ending this week.

When we went to war in Vietnam, and even recently in Afghanistan, many of us had to check our globe to see where those foreign lands were located. They had nothing to do with our own history, our own culture.

But haven't you noticed, as you follow the war coverage, how familiar the words are? Some Americans might have trouble naming the major rivers of Europe, yet the two rivers of Iraq roll easily off our tongues.

How musical they sounded, back when we first heard them, when we learned about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Even without the religious perspective, our early history books taught us that human beings first settled in the fertile crescent and populated the earth from there.

We studied Ninevah, the capital of Assyria, which was part of Mesopotamia, as was Babylon with its hanging gardens of Nebuchadnezzar, one of the wonders of the ancient world.

A most dangerous division of Saddam Hussein's army is named for Nebuchadnezzar.

Modern Iraqis are very aware of their amazing history, which like all histories, is cruelly warlike. Ninevah was totally destroyed by the Babylonians in 612 B.C; its ruins, discovered in the late 19th century, are near the city of Mosul in northern Iraq, a key site of this war's battles.

The famous Tower of Babel in Babylonia was destroyed by God directly because its arrogant builders thought they could reach heaven by climbing instead of through proper worship.

Even if we couldn't spell it with the "h" in the right place, we'd heard of Baghdad, which was the scene of many "Arabian Nights" tales. Iraqis say that the cave in which Aladdin found his magic lamp is beneath El-Kasr, a central street of Baghdad; we will probably hear that name too as our troops enter the city.

I know that the Aladdin of Scheherazade's story lived in China, but I think we, too, tend to believe that the most popular tales actually were sited on the Arabian peninsula, of which Iraq is a part. Certainly Sinbad set sail from Basra, the chief port of Iraq which we hope to control so that humanitarian aid can enter the country from the Persian Gulf.

As I traced the familiar names through my World Book encyclopedia (so much quicker than the Internet), I discovered something I hadn't known: That Iraq was on our side in World War II.

You may remember the name of King Faisal, who was a friend of the United States and Great Britain. Relations were good between us until, according to World Book, "Iraq joined with other Arab League countries in 1948 to fight the Jews in Palestine."

We all know that Israel is also part of our religious and cultural history; and Muslims share the same holy beginnings as Judaism and Christianity. But once we left the Garden of Eden, or grew out of our original farming communities, the holiness gave way to war that never seems to end.

The Middle East is not so far away as Vietnam, North Korea or Japan. Our heritage began there; we are part of it, and it is part of us. There is no reason not to hope that someday the entire region will reflect a true commitment to civilization, after 4,000 years in which we all have been trying and failing to get it right.


Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.


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