Iraq, Part of our Heritage - Contrary to Popular Belief

by Weam Namou - Date: 2006-12-22 - Word Count: 1092 Share This!

The words China and Egypt, Athens and Rome, bring to most people's mind a mysterious history and a respected culture. Rarely will the word Mesopotamia, ancient Iraq, do the same. You'll probably receive confused or weird expressions from children, even most adults, at the mention of Mesopotamia. In regards to Iraq, images of Saddam, violence, terrorists, Islamic fundamentalists and war pop up all over. And that's where the images usually end.

As for Iraq's attributes, they are buried alive beneath lack of recognition. For whatever reason, history school books and TV programs fail to discuss the importance of ancient Iraq, even though it's the mother of our current lifestyle and therefore, should not only be discussed but emphasized.

I stopped writing here, walked away from my computer and asked my niece, who was studying for a college course at the kitchen table, to call a couple of her friends, tell them she was doing a survey for her aunt and could they answer one question: "What is Mesopotamia?"

The people surveyed were in their mid-twenties to late thirties, and are either currently in college or have a college degree.

1st response is a first generation American, the daughter of Chaldean (Christian Iraqi) immigrants: "What the f_ _ _ is this for? I don't know. I'm not good in geography. Are you kidding me right now? I can't explain it like this. You caught me off guard. I don't know. I have to think about it. You can't do this. I wasn't able to brain storm so go get your information from someplace else."

Click. My niece laughed, knowing her friend overreacted having been put on the spot. She dialed the next number, this time putting a little twist in the question. "If an alien comes down from out of space and asks you what is Mesopotamia, what would you say?"

2nd response is also by the daughter of Chaldean immigrants: "Oh, my God! Well.... Long ago - long ago - okay, it's an area of land in the Middle East. It's our culture, where our people are from. Didn't your aunt write a book on this? It's a big spot and a war broke out there and everyone was separated to different areas."

3rd response is by a Greek-American man: "I don't know. Never heard of it. It's a region. In Biblical times. That's all I know."

4th response is by an American woman: "It's a country - an area - providence - an area in the Middle East. In an Arabic land. Where there's King Tut and Egypt."

5th response is by an Iranian woman: "It was an Eastern civilization that has something to do with the Ottoman Empire or Egypt."

6th response is by a Jewish woman: "It's a country or city."

7th response is by an Irish-American woman: "Cancer."

She must have mistaken the word for mesothelioma, I'm assuming?

The results of the survey did not surprise me. I knew from prior experience that people knew little if anything about the history of Iraq even though America has had political and media contact with that region for nearly two decades. I remember how after the Gulf War many people called Iraq Iran and after I corrected them, they explained, "Oh, I always get these two countries mixed up."

Unless the person is highly or self educated, he or she will not likely know that civilization was born in Mesopotamia over 5,000 years ago. That is where writing, astronomy and science were invented. The first school, law, literature, map of the world, and the idea of dividing time and space into a multiple of 60's started in this historic land.

The first writer in recorded history was Enheduanna, a woman from ancient Iraq. She lived, composed, and taught roughly 2,000 years before Aristotle and 1,700 years prior to Sappho. Before the "golden age" of Greece. Man's most important invention, the wheel, was devised in Mesopotamia, as was plumbing, the plow and the sailboat.

If people were commonly aware of these facts, their image of Iraq will change and so will their opinion and behavior towards it. For instance, maybe Baghdad's museum would have been better protected from looters after the American/British invasion. Instead, 300-400 looters were permitted to come and go as they please taking such antiques as the Varca vase, which goes back to 3,200 B.C. Found in a temple, it shows the philosophy of the Sumerians and the development and stages of life. Also missing was a headless statue for a Sumerian king, Antemena, and the famous Barzeki bronze statue, which dates back to early dynastic Sumerian periods and is more than 160 kilograms. It's one of the earliest large examples of casting that was made by the "lost wax technique," which is used until now.

Why didn't the American Army help when Iraqis pleaded for one of its nearby tanks to help save the museum, by simply moving in front of it? Why was the Army's response, "I'm sorry, it's not our duty" when a list issued by the American Central Command stated which places the Army should protect during the 2003 war - and the museum was at Number 2, while the Ministry of Oil, which was urgently and efficiently protected, was at Number 16?

Much of the violence against US troops is triggered by the troops' failure to understand culture-specific manners and practices in Iraq. It is beneficial for everyone to aid in cultures becoming better acquainted and as a result, lead individuals to stop the destructive acts that have terrorized both the East and the West. To do this one needs only encourage mainstream Western media to recognize the rewards and not just the conflicts regarding Arabs' tribal ways, which operate on a foundation of honor, respect and a sense of community.

In California today there is a program for the military where Iraqi people are brought in to show how Iraqis think and behave, how they operate in their tribal system. It is a wonderful idea which really aught to have been implemented before the war so that the sons and daughters, fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers serving in Iraq would be equipped with understanding, not just weapons.

Through replacing stereotypes with accurate information, we are also able to transform America's image which too has suffered in the world due to myths and misconceptions attained through media and some of our politicians' bad decisions. For instance, when I was in Baghdad almost six years ago, many Iraqis assumed that in America all women had one night stands, using drugs was the cultural norm, and everyone walked around with guns.

Related Tags: iraq, museum, baghdad, civilization, schools, mesopotamia, history books, first woman writer, 2003 war, u.s. military

Weam Namou was born as a minority Christian in Baghdad, Iraq and came to America at age ten. She is the author of The Feminine Art and The Mismatched Braid.

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