Thursday, January 11, 2007

Gertrude Bell and the Lessons of History in Iraq

They say that those who don't learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. And in Iraq to understand that all you have to do is visit the old British Cemetery in Baghdad. 

Under the art deco dome among the weeds lies the body of General Sir Stanley Maude, the conquering hero of Mesopotamia. When he entered Baghdad in 1917 he issued the following proclamation.

"To the people of Baghdad... our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators....."

He promised them a "future of greatness." Eight months later he was dead from cholera. Three years later the British were bombing Kurdish villages and using poison gas against rebellious tribesmen. Sound familiar?

And then there's that other tomb in the ruined cemetery.The tomb of the woman who drew up the map of Iraq. The amazing Gertrude Bell.

They called her the Queen of the Desert, She fell in love with the region and its people. She knew their history. She spoke their languages. She lived with tribes in the desert. 

The tragedy of Iraq is that when she went to draw the map...... she loved the Sunnis more than the Shia. As she once wrote:

"I don't for a moment doubt that the final authority must be in the hands of the Sunnis, in spite of their numerical inferiority; otherwise you will have a ... theocratic state, which is the very devil...."

So she drew up a map giving the minority Sunnis all the power, and leaving the Shia as an oppressed and persecuted majority. And in so doing helped create a Pandora's Box that would one day blow open and let out all that pent up resentment, and the hideous devils of religious hatred.

The time of the Shia has finally arrived. And they won't be denied.

Just as Gertrude Bell found out so long ago....

As the British slaughtered Iraqis like animals, and the country descended into anarchy, she became disillusioned and depressed. Until on a steamy hot Baghdad night she took an overdose of sleeping pills and killed herself.

Which leaves me wondering...when the hell in Iraq is finally over one day...who will history be harder on? Saddam Hussein who murdered hundreds of thousands to keep the lid on that Pandora's box? George Bush who knocked him off the box only to let the devils inside escape and take wing all over the Middle East?

Or the amazing woman who helped created the nightmare box in the first place with a few strokes of a pen?

And who now lies forgotten in Baghdad cemetery overgrown with weeds, where the silence of the dead is broken by the sounds of gunshots and car bombs. A cemetery that is now too dangerous to even visit.

A cemetery where the Conqueror of Mesopotamia and the uncrowned Queen of Iraq now lie in the rubble of their dreams.

Oh yeah. Those who ignore the past are condemned to repeat it.

Over and over again....


beepbeepitsme said...

This is a great article. Thank you for mentioning the history of Iraq and its ethnic complexity. A complexity which the allies have either chosen to ignore, or one which they consider incorrectly, has no impact on present events.

Anonymous said...

Heavy lesson. It's a shame so few are paying attention.

Hope your head's feeling better today.

Simon said...

Hi Beep! I'm glad you liked it. It really is quite a fascinating story.
You have Bell, Lawrence of Arabia, and Winston Churchill all in it together. Churchill arguing that poison gas should be used.Lawrence slowly sinking into despair. And then there's Bomber Harris. Who boasted his fledgling RAF could flatten a Kurdish village in 45 minutes. Twenty years later he's be directing the flattening of German cities. It's mindboggling...somebody should write a play about it...

Hi Jay!! yeah you know ...nobody pays attention to history anymore...It's all what's happening now...there's no context provided. And most of what we see on the television news at least is all crap. Yesterday the CBC led it's flagship news show with the David Beckham story.Vomit. And you had to wait for twelve minutes to see anything on Iraq. The day AFTER Bush made his announcement!!
As for my head....luckily it's a hard one. The doctor says I might have suffered a minor concussion. But the swelling over my eye is down so I'm fine. Just a little wiser...

Anonymous said...

"Hello. I'm David Beckham. I married the least talented Spice Girl. I'm also paid 25 million a year to be an inconsistent footballer. But look at my hardcore ink. Anyone up for fish 'n' chips? No? Cheerio then!"

What a murderousl obese wanker.