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Libyan Writer Ghoma
الكاتب الليبي غومة

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Saturday, 5 July, 2008

BAGHDAD BACK TO THE MIDDLE AGES...!

By: Ghoma


        When the "Awe and Shock" campaign had promised to send Iraq back to the Stone Ages, it was not a mere rhetorical flourish or a slip of an inattentive politician, it meant just that. The brunt of a modern superpower was unleashed on an already supine second rank 3-World country! With all the horrors modern wars could rain on its victims, particularly from a power as the USA, their consequences on an already precarious existence in the modern world and its big cities were even worse. Not only the bombs had wracked havoc with basic infrastructures, such as, water, sewage systems, electricity, telephone lines, etc. but made life for the unlucky teeming multitude intolerable and turned them on themselves in the classical Fanon’s description.

        To force the occupation down the throats of the more than 7-million Baghdadis and to bring to total surrender, after more than 5-years of war and occupation, Baghdad ‘s rulers and occupiers have hit upon a genuine yet malicious way that will perhaps help achieve their designs. To deal with the internecine fratricides going on and to the so-called solve its security problem, the occupiers have reverted to an idea is as old as the city itself. Divide the city into smaller units which can be easily controlled! In this the harrowed rulers and their masters have borrowed a page or two from, though long forgotten, yet history nevertheless. [Or, perhaps from G. K. Chesterton’s novel: The Napoleon of Notting Hill, when medieval clans have taken hold of London and divided it into turfs they could defend!]. If one skips through any book dealing with cities’ history (say Lewis Mumford’s City in History) particularly in the Middle Ages and up to the late 19th century will not miss to noticing the ubiquity of walls. Walls, walls everywhere! Not that famous one in China, nor that other infamous one of Berlin, nor the still under construction between Zionists and their victims, the Palestinians, but real thick and tall walls around what were ordinary cities. Back then when cities were mere islands -of civics and civilization amidst a world of rustics and peasants- refuges to the huddled, the dispossessed and the talented; those who got tired of the countryside ‘s perennial submissiveness and were eager to taste some civilization and the freedoms that came with it. In a time when the world was still a jungle and life risky and short, cities had no other way to defend themselves but for the piles of rocks and bricks. To keep enemies, local and foreign out, cities had surrounded themselves with a belt of security! Needless to say that the network of moats and walls served multiple purposes: part for control, part for management and part to keep peace between its various residents but above all between itself and the citadel, where its rulers resided. In this way cities had subdivided themselves into quarters, from the Roman times, and smaller units later on, which were walled off from each other. This was done in the Western world as well as in the East. In this area, the so-called Islamic City was no different, if not worse, than its sisters elsewhere.

        The Arabian City, an oxymoron, hah! was too no different, actually more so, given the persistence of tribalism everywhere. It had girdled itself with fortified walls and surrounded each and every neighborhood, which were more than the number of quarters, with walls too. Fortifications on the outside, walls on the inside. Due to a variety of reasons, from clans and tribes, to the multiplication of ethnic and sectarian groups, to the way power was structured and exercised, the Eastern city was in more vulnerable condition in matters of security, due in small part of never having the control of itself; and because of that it had lacked too of that sense of identity which gave the city in the West that autonomy of existence, made it a hot bed of agitations, and gave its citizens that sense of freedom, competitive edge, and proudness. What came to be called the Muslim City was a warren of intricate networks of multiple interests and claims with very little identity.

        Baghdad started by el-Mansour, as a circular-rounded city, with the palace, the main mosque, and the maidan in the center and sectors fanning toward the outside, all surrounded by walls. These sectors were settled by different tribes and ethnic groups and separated from each other by some barriers. These arrangements, whether in the Western or Islamic were part of the state-of-art of their times in order to maintain peace among unruly still yokels and to protect the various clans from each other and from the marauding thieves and gangs who preyed on such concentrations of people and wealth.

        Only with the advent of modernity and its means of warfare, and with the rise of capitalism and its division of labor did the walls come down. The falling of favor was motivated also by the need for more land. But as the destructive capacity to squeeze the city and choke life out of it had increased dramatically, so the desire to experience its allure has been increasing proportionately. With the rise of industry, people had abandoned the countryside and migrated in droves to the cities. Thus the pressures on the cities to expand had caused them to implode and tore down into those restricting walls. Western cities as well as in many other parts of the world had gotten out of their self-imposed isolation back in the 19th century’ furor when cities were in competition not only against the countryside but also with each other. And thus came the modern city, with no walls to restrict it or borders to stop its sprawling hunger for more land and resources. Cities, from the 19th century on have been accelerating further and further beyond control. From the mid 20th century on have become virtual giant agglomerations. Tokyo, Cairo, Mexico city, Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai, etc. with close to 20-million each. Then come those of the middle range cities with10-million residents or less, such as London, New York, Baghdad, etc.

        Baghdad, as the iconic "Arabian City," that’s, a city only in name and number of humans residing in it; otherwise, and in every other detail is sill an agglomeration of clans and tribes. With little of the infrastructures which made a city the locus of civili-zation, Baghdad was hedging its luck when pawned its fate in the hands of a tyrant! [The Countrification of the city is perhaps a unique and original contemporary Arab contribution to march of urbanization]. As such and given its bad luck of having Baath Party and Saddam as its rulers and planners, indeed the worst planners a city could have. When they decided on their adventures they never made room for the eventuality of the Armageddon’s happening! Neither had the foresight nor the wisdom to prepare for the eventual breakdown of order that took place at the fall of both of them in a city of 7+ millions. They went for the old cliche: apres moi the Deluge! A city of 7 + million which is divided into who-knows how many tribes and sects, and which lacked the sense of cohesiveness and citi-zenship, without an alternate deterrent, it was destined to fall prey, as the Army, police, and their intelligence and informers, for the forces of chaos to take over in no time. Tribe against tribe, sect against another and the occupation against all! That was what took place immediately after its fall, and that’s still Baghdad today.

        Since then Baghdad has been dividing into even smaller units, each separated by up to 20-feet high walls. "Rows upon rows of barrier walls divide the city into smaller areas..." as the Associated Press has worded it. It continued: "Baghdad’s walls are everywhere. They have turned a riverside capital of leafy neighborhoods and palm-lined boulevards into a city of shadows that separate Sunnis from Shiites" "There’s hardly a street in Baghdad without a wall, or a cheaper substitute such as barbed wire, palm-tree trunks, or piles of rocks." Baghdad is a virtual spooked and ghosted city. It has turned into a maze of barriers, revolving doors, walls, etc. for anyone to access any part of it needs a proof of residence to that enclave or be a holder of special cards!

        The surge accompanied with the buying of the Sunnis, the hiring of three quarters of the Shiites, etc, Iraqi cities today have turned to, instead places of anonymity and freedom, de facto places of torture and suffering, virtually big prisoners for their residents! Who to blame? Iraqis first, Arabs second and America and its Allies as a third! All of this is happening in the 21st century, because Iraqis, and Arabs in general, have stuck themselves into a decadent and warped culture and have refused to join the rest of the world in marching with modernity. Thus the only superpower has to mobilize the rest of the world and come to rescue us from ourselves. In the name of freedom and democracy, an already half-stuck society in the swamps of its own muck, has been invaded and occupied in order to dismantle its millennial fabric. In the process it was traumatized and sunk deeper down into Dante’s Inferno!

        These millions have let themselves be herded like sheep and cattle in their stockades. How more than seven million humans let themselves be manipulated by outsiders and their local lackeys is perhaps a lesson for science to take notice of that contrary to conventional wisdom, human consciousness was never a universal attribute. It takes all the hard work, smartness and capital to prepare the ground for the seed called consciousness to take roots. And the Arab world that work has not yet to be thought about, not to say started!

        The tragedy and irony in the same time, all of this, are occurring in day light. Humanity, with its goods and bads, has chosen to be only a witness. None of the collective institutions nor a wisp of humanity’s collective wisdom has so far, done anything or whispered even a collective sigh, perhaps a shout of hands-off, enough is enough, let the Iraqis deal with themselves! No, the pope is still pontificating about what Jesus would have done! The Chinese are busy hawking their cheap wares, the Indians are still into their collective amnesia; and the Arabs are still stunned, out of consciousness! And the rest of humanity is barely making it for day to the next day. A humanity in retreat marching backwards into the abyss of its own past darkness. Conrad’s "Heart off darkness" may have been somewhere in Africa, but today’s heart-of darkness is instead spreading fast everywhere. From Washington to Brussels and to Moscow and Beijing, the grip of multinationals is getting tighter by the day, in the name and for the service of a globalizing world!

Ghoma
Ghoma47@hotmail.com


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