Hello everybody, it’s that time of the fortnight again where we whisk you around the world and continue our round-the-world trip, discovering fascinating reading-related facts and all kinds of assorted and amazing stories and pursuits of literature from the whole world over. If you missed the last installment click here. Now it’s over to our former communications intern Mike Butler to tell us all about Iraq (hope you enjoy).
‘Iraq is steeped in history.
Tread lightly there.
You will see things that no man could pay to see
— and you will have to go a long way to find a more decent, generous and upright people than the Iraqis.
You will be embarrassed by their hospitality even though they have nothing.’
Colonel Tim Collins, 19 March 2003
For someone my age, growing up in the 90’s and 2000’s, it’s hard to think of Iraq as anything other than a desperate, war-torn country, but Tim Collins managed to do so on in a speech to his battalion on the eve of the invasion of the country in 2003, when he acknowledged the history and mythology of its people. Much of the rest of his speech is coloured by the belligerent rhetoric and delusional self-justification that dominated newspapers and airwaves for several years following the attacks of September 11th 2001, but here was a rare glimpse of the human face behind the panorama of destruction.
Iraq is part of Mesopotamia, which is widely considered to be the birthplace of recorded history and writing itself, in the form of cuneiform script. The name of the region means ‘the land between two rivers’, and it is the civilisations that emerged around the Tigris and Euphrates, including the Sumerian and Babylonian empires, which have led to Mesopotamia being frequently identified as the cradle of civilisation. Although events since then might suggest that human civilisation wasn’t such a great idea after all, there is no doubt that the region around modern-day Iraq exerts a profound and lasting influence on human history.
The region produced one of the first works of literature, The Epic of Gilgamesh, which describes the titular king of Uruk’s adventures with his companion Enkidu and his quest for immortality. The poem predates Homer’s Odyssey, and its creation and flood myths are believed to be the origin of those found in the Bible, underlining its influence on Western culture. Some of the tales from One Thousand and One Nights are derived from Mesopotamian folklore and literature, emphasising the richness of the region’s storytelling tradition.
In modern times, some of the world’s most powerful figures have similarly devoted themselves to making up fantastical stories about Iraq, with disastrous consequences. We’re left to wonder what kind of stories the people of Iraq are telling each other today, and how they explain to themselves the various disasters that have befallen their country.