By Michael Kiesow Moore
For Sami Rasouli
Invoke the ancient scribes of Sumeria, who by carefully plying wedge
shaped hieroglyphs onto red clay cuneiforms, and in the course of
tabulating the sales of property and goats, invented writing. Hear the
story of Gilgamesh, the world's first hero, how after the death of his
true friend, Enkidu, sought the end to death itself. It was a futile task and
Gilgamesh settled for inscribing his name into tablets of lapis lazuli, and
by the near permanence of stone and poem, claim immortality.
Remember Eridu, the first city. Mesopotamia has no Garden of Eden
where life begins with flowers and trees. Instead, in the beginning of time, the god Marduk creates a city from which all things spring: Marduk constructs
a reed frame on the face of the waters. He creates dirt and pours it out by the
reed frame. In order to settle the gods in the dwelling of their hearts' delight,
he creates mankind. In Marduk's new world, holiness is civilization.
Celebrate the elders of Uruk who said governance was a civil duty, and
so they never recorded their names for posterity. Faceless is their
remembrance, but is this not a better model for governing?
Summon old Baghdad, once the shining center of the Islamic world.
Let me tell you how it was built: After the epic battles between the
Umayyads and the Abbasids, it was decreed that a new capital
would be formed, east of Damascus. In 762, Abu Jafar al-Mansur, the second
caliph of the new dynasty, traveled the length of the Tigris River. He found a
little village on its west bank - surrounded by palm trees, connected to the
Euphrates by canals. The caliph laid the first brick, and 100,000 laborers arrived
from the cities of Mosul, Kufa, Wasit, and Basra, from Syria, Persia, and other
lands. The Golden Gate palace of the caliph held its center, topped by a green
dome and connected to the Great Mosque. The palace opened its doors to the
far-flung reaches of Arabia. The caliph named his new city "Dar es-Salaam" -
the City of Peace. The city filled with fountains and public baths, the streets always
washed and swept clean. Water flowed into homes from aqueducts, rooms cooled
by screens of wet reeds. Marble steps led to river's edge where at anchor you can
see Chinese junks, Assyrian rafts resting on inflated skins, thousands of gondolas,
decked with little flags, carrying people to and fro. Outside the city are parks, gardens,
and villas, adorned with varnished frescoes and tiled vermilion murals. In the City
of Peace, the Academy of Wisdom was formed, a great library where you could find
the works of Aristotle, Plato, Hippocrates, Ptolemy, Archimedes, Euclid, and the
Torah. Studying there were Islamic, Persian, Greek, Hindu, and Jewish scholars.
Over the millennia Arabian scholars discovered algebra, calculus, and trigonometry;
they built great celestial observatories scattered throughout the lands; they
established the decimal system, invented the zero. Forget not the words that were
coined there: nadir and zenith, star names like Rigel and Betelgeuse.
I am told that all Iraqis today are poets, for when gazing upon their deserts' golden
plains, the blazing sun in sapphire skies, the gentle waters of the Euphrates,
how can anyone stop the torrents of poetry
that spill like rivers of flower petals?