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:: Article nr. 32245 sent on 19-apr-2007 23:31 ECT
The Second Fall of Babylon
Felicity Arbuthnot, UN Observer
April 18, 2007
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down .... we hanged our harps upon
the willows in the midst thereof. (Psalms 137:1)
It must have been an article I wrote recently, "Erasing History" about
Iraq's splendours: I dreamt I was in Babylon again, now destroyed by the
Polish and US troops. In my dream, I stood amongst the carnage, with only
memories of how it was. I awoke with my head on a tear soaked pillow.
Another unique wickedness wrought in the name of two professed, profoundly
"Christian" leaders, the "we pray together" Bush and Blair, by degenerate
"Christian soldiers", US and Polish.
Babylon, of course, figures prominently in the Bible and its Hanging Gardens
were one the of seven wonders of the ancient world. By 1792 B.C., it became
the capital of the famous king, law maker and social reformer Hammurabi. It
flourished under King Nebuchadnezzar (605-563 B.C.) who expanded and rebuilt
to make it the largest and loveliest city of its time. Alexander the Great
made Babylon his Capital, returning to die there in 322 B.C. The remains of
the original Street of Processions had survived the millennia, but not the
The Lion of Babylon, symbol of the goddess Ishtar, had stood by the remains
of the Main Palace since time immemorial. The ornate symbols on the back are
believed to represent the belief that Ishtar would return, to stand on its
back. A photograph last year showed it moved to the modern reconstructed
auditorium. Only a heavy crane could have rearranged this poignant historic
symbol - and only the US and Polish troops were living there. There appeared
to be further damage (legend is that the last was caused by the Ottomans who
believed it contained gold.)
Nebuchadnezzar's southern palace is made up of five courtyards, each
surrounded by halls and chambers, one of which is a throne room, the remains
of the Hanging Gardens were here, still visible. (1)
The squatting soldiers did a bit of construction of their own, reportedly a
helipad. Could these ancient wonders withstand such vibration? What of the
myriad remains which lie throughout this wondrous place? Buried under a
helipad and also gathered, reportedly, to fill sand bags. Tanks roamed this
Biblical site, shaking and shuddering ancient and sacred structures. Tanks
which destroy modern highways in hours, Babylon's great temples
reverberating. "Sacrilege", does not even approach the enormity of this war
"How many miles to Babylon? Three score and ten. Can I get there by
candle-light? Yes and back again", goes the children's nursery rhyme; "I was
a king in Babylon and you were a Christian slave", wrote W.E. Henley
(1849-1903.) Babylon has resonated wonder for four millennia.
"How many ... realise that our superstitious impulse to turn our back when a
black cat crosses our path stems from ... Babylon? Do they come to mind when
we look at the twelve divisions of our watch face ... when we look up at the
stars to read our fate in their movement and conjunction?" Thus wrote
Leonard Woolley, archeologist, who conducted extensive excavations during
the 1930's. (2) Babylonians produced "... the principles on which harps were
turned, the basis of astronomy". Further: "No one concerned with the origins
of Western civilisation can afford to ignore its roots ... the visible
splendour of proud Babylon and mighty Nineveh ... linked with the very start
of recorded history. This, their legacy, is unassailable, their renown
indelible: legendary, glorious, immortal." (3)
During the embargo years, returning from the horrors of Basra's hospitals
towards Baghdad, Abu Ziad, beloved friend, mentor, driver, would say as we
approached the turning, off the main highway: "Babylon, Madam Felicity?" It
was always the soul's balm. The Ishtar Gate, entrance to a place of beauty
and tranquillity - and a symbol of continuity in a world which, via the UN,
had shown Iraqis cruelty beyond measure - their children dying through lack
of medication and medical equipment at an average of six thousand a month.
I would carry the children I had held, watched die, or who would die, in my
heart and take them and stroke the lion, the enduring symbol, for Iraqis, of
resurgence, resurrection: "The Lion of Babylon will rise again ..." is an
Iraqi legend of regeneration.
The custodian of the site was an archaeologist, in his thirties. He lived
and breathed it, loving it as a living thing. During the embargo and the
ongoing US/UK bombings, the wonders of the museum there - and those
throughout Iraq - were removed to secret vaults for safety. But on every
visit, he would solemnly take me around the museum, to the cases which had
contained these ancient marvels and explain their significance as if he was
still looking at them. "This is from the Akkadian era, excavated in ... the
colouring is significant because ... this piece of it is missing, but we
still hope - Insh'a'Allah - to find it one day."
On one visit, I discovered a magnificent chamber, with a large dais. What
was its significance? It was, he said, the Queen's chamber, where she had
been able to dispense favours, entertain, meet out punishment. Additional to
the ongoing images of the small doomed in my head, it had been a bad day of
another kind. I had bought Abu Ziad and the interpreter lunch, in a kebab
house they particularly favoured, in an ancient street off the central
market. We found a table outside and the mounds of freshly made, piping hot
bread arrived, the kebabs, the hummous and an array of dishes. The
interpreter, a highly educated engineer, unable to follow his profession
because of the embargo's denial of just about all materials, suddenly
excused himself and took his food inside the restaurant. Eating together is
an Arab must, meals are the highlight of social interaction.
I got up and looked through the restaurant window. This gentle, immaculate
man was stuffing the food in to his mouth with his hands, as if he had not
eaten for weeks. When he emerged, I offered more. It took three repeat meals
for both of them, before we left. A kilo of meat or chicken cost the
equivalent of a month's salary for a university Professor at the time.
Madeleine Albright who thought that the deaths of half a million Iraqi
children were "a hard choice, but the price, we think the price is worth
it", was still U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.
I looked at the dais and something snapped. I leapt on to it and delivered a
twenty minute valedictory, in the great, echoing, empty chamber, to UN
Secretary General Kofi Annan, the US and British Administrations - and to an
imaginary Madeleine Albright standing in front of me. Then I "sentenced" her
"to death". (Figuratively, of course.) Abu Ziad and the interpreter laughed
all the way back to Baghdad.
There was a little souvenir shop at the entrance, with exquisite, lovingly
crafted replicas of ancient finds. It has been burned down. On the last
visit before the invasion, the peace was total. It was a Friday afternoon,
the Sabbath. Families had simple picnics - bread, hummous, tabouleh -
children played where "the rivers" and "willows" had been and among the
pre-antiquity magnificence, as the sun fell and golden shadows crept along,
illuminating the creations of the inspired.
The archaeologist had a recurring plea: to the Germans to return the
original Ishtar Gate, which was removed to the Berlin Museum in the 1920's
and other Items from this place of wonder - and for the British to do the
same. Now it may be that they are all that remain totally intact.
The destroyed irreplaceable is just that, but the spirit of Babylon and
Mesopotamia was captured remarkably by Hussein Al Alak, founder of the Iraq
Solidarity Campaign, who wrote after the destruction of Samarra's golden
mosque, in February 2006: "With the destruction of the Mosque of Samarra, at
the front of my mind, along with the great disasters that have faced Iraq
and all the Iraqi people, it is said that out of the ashes, the Lion of
Babylon will rise again. It will rise from the rubble of its ancient Kingdom
and glance over the ruins of the land between two rivers. Each second will
encompass its own recollection of betrayal and tragedies. It will recall all
influences that made Mesopotamia great and will unleash a mighty roar, that
will not alone send shivers throughout the land of my father, but indeed the
lands of the world over." (4)
And perhaps the harps and from the Lion's world, the mystical Lyre of Ur,
will be heard again at the magnificent Babylon music festival.
(1)References: Iraq Guide : Iraq State Organisation for Tourism, 1982.
(2) Iraq: The Bradt Travel Guide, Karen Dabrowska, 2002.
(3) The Legacy of Mesopotamia, Edited by Stephanie Dalley, concluding
chapter by Henrietta McCall, quoted by Dabrowska, as above.
(4) "The Lion's Roar is Yet to be Heard."
Felicity Arbuthnot is a journalist and activist who has visited the Arab and Muslim world on numerous occasions. She has written and broadcast on Iraq, her coverage of which was nominated for several awards. She was also senior researcher for John Pilger's award-winning documentary "Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq". http://www.johnpilger.com/page.asp?partID=4 and author, with Nikki van der Gaag, of "Baghdad" in the "Great Cities" series, for World Almanac Books (2006.) http://www.amazon.com/.....=books
Ed. Note: Babylon is also remembered for its practice of two sets of Laws, one for the rulers and one for everyone else - much like the current U.S. Administration's view of International Law and U.S. Constitutional Law. This article might have been entitled "The New Babylon in Ancient Babylon".
Please also see:
Felicity Arbuthnot: Erasing History
Iraq: Western Civilisation ?, by Hussein Al-alak,
The Iraq Solidarity Campaign
Three Years after Looting of Iraqi National Museum:
an Official Whitewash of US Crime
Gulf War Profiteering - Victors and Victims,
by Christiane N. Martens and Paul V. Rafferty
LETTER TO THE EDITOR from Voices In the Wilderness
Spoils of War: The Antiquities Trade and the Looting of Iraq,
by Gregory Elich
Rumsfeld Proposes Merging Iraq, Afghanistan into IRAQISTAN,
by Andy Borowitz (satire ?)
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