FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Desert Storms

by BRUCE JACKSON

 

Winds in the Iraqi desert sandstorm have been blowing fifty miles an hour, bending date palms so their branches scrape the ground, reducing visibility to a few meters, rendering many weapons inoperable until the sand can be unpacked from barrels, chambers and sighting mechanisms. “It was biblical,” a U.S. army colonel from Texas told a reporter. Were it not for digital cameras we’d have hardly any images at all because sand like this destroys film cameras. Rain fell yesterday, but it was mud falling from the sky, making everything worse rather than better. The temperature in the desert approached 100 degrees. If there is a battlefield from hell that is it.

And an ancient one. The invasion force in the Coalition of the Killing is driving its tanks across the motherland of Western culture. This is the Tigris-Euphrates Valley you learned about in high school: the Cradle of Civilization.

It is the location of Sumer, home of the hero Gilgamesh who in the 23rd century before Christ (or so) went to the cedar forest with his companion Enkidu and killed the giant Humbaba, and who then, after the miserable death of Enkidu, traveled to the island of Ut-Napishtim,the Faraway, who told him the story of the Great Flood and convinced him of the irreversibility of death. Gilgamesh came home, gave up his dream of immortality and conquest, and instead built a great wall around his city and told the story of what he’d learned.

It is also the site of ancient Babylon, seat of the empire of the 18th century ruler Hammurabi, whose great code foreshadowed the code of Moses the Lawgiver half a millennium later. Hammurabi’s Code is nowadays trivialized to “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” It is, in modern parlance, a code of swift and severe and uncompromising revenge. It is, in fact, none of those things. The Code of Hammurabi is a code that limits violence rather than licences it. What the rest of the prose around eye for eye and tooth for tooth says is, That’s it, that’s as far as you go, revenge for an eye or tooth shall not be slaughter. It’s a code about perspective, not blood.

There is another text that was central to Hammurabi’s world, less known but no less important. It is usually referred to as the “Enuma elish,” which is simply the first two words: “When on high.”

The Enuma Elish, it seems, was recited every year at the Babylonian New Year’s festival. It is one of the world’s great creation myths. It is also a story of how the gods gave power to mankind. The purpose of the recitation, if the archaeologists are to be believed, was to remind mankind of its place in the order of the universe.

The central battle in Enuma Elish is between the great mother Tiamat and the young god Marduk. Tiamat’s children have assigned Marduk the task of carrying out the war against Tiamat. He accepts the assignment but demands in exchange the power to remake the world when it is over. Tiamat’s children, gods all, drunk, agree.

Tiamat and Marduk meet on a field of battle, each with huge and fearsome armies and weapons. But the armies never engage because one of Marduk’s weapons is Imhullu, the wind, and he causes it to rage into the face of Tiamat. She is immobilized, her body swells, Marduk kills her with a spear thrust to the belly and rips her open and, in one of the most bizarre parodies of parturition in mythology, creates the universe as we know it from her destroyed body. Afterwards, the gods celebrate his victory and they assign him fifty names, in effect giving him the power previously held fifty separate cities and kingdoms and coalitions. Marduk becomes supreme ruler, master of the universe.

Humans are created to serve the gods and Marduk appoints one to be master of all, the ruler of the Babylonian empire. But every year in the New Year’s festival that emperor would be stripped naked and slapped in the face by the priests until he wept, to remind him that the power he had was not his but was only his to administer, and that Marduk, who controlled Imhullu, the wind, was and would remain sole master of the universe. Marduk gave power to the priests, the priests gave power to the ruler, and only Marduk was eternal.

More or less. The remnants of Marduk and the emperors who submitted to humiliation in order for the priests to certify them as administrators of his earthly power are now pieces of stone tourists can look at in the museums of Iraq, Berlin, Paris, London and Rome. Time and the driven sand turned their palaces and empires to dust.

Sandstorms, windstorms—these are nothing new to the deserts of Iraq, and neither are death and destruction and raging empire and the rage for power. Empires come and go, conquerors come and are in turn themselves conquered, they bring death and they in turn die or are killed. The myth lives longer than they and the sand lives longer than either.

BRUCE JACKSON is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Samuel P. Capen Professor of American Culture at University of Buffalo. He edits Buffalo Report.

His email address is bjackson@buffalo.edu

Today’s Features

March 26, 2003

Pablo Mukherjee
Watch Their Lips

David Krieger
Shock But Not Awe

Linda Heard
Winning Hearts and Minds Bush-Style

Imad Jadaa
The Beautiful Face of America

Adam Engel
Buckets of Blood

Patrick Cockburn
Kurds Unimpressed

David Lindorff
POWs, Torture and Hypocrisy

Robert Fisk
The Coup That Didn’t Happen

April Hurley, MD
A Doctor’s Outrage in Baghdad

Gloria Bergen
Chretien’s Shame

Reema Abu Hamdieh
The Smell of Death Surrounds Me

Website of the War
Iraq Body Count

Keep CounterPunch Alive:
Make a Tax-Deductible Donation Today Online!

home / subscribe / about us / books / archives / search / links /

Bruce Jackson’s most recent books are Inside the Wire: Photographs from Texas and Arkansas Prison (University of Texas Press, 2013) and In This Timeless Time Living and Dying on Death Row in America (with Diane Christian, University of North Carolina Press, 2012). He is SUNY Distinguished Professor and James Agee Professor of American Culture at University at Buffalo

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
John Stanton
Brzezinski Vision for a Power Sharing World Stymied by Ignorant Americans Leaders, Citizens
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Dan Bacher
The Big Corporate Money Behind Jerry Brown
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
David Yearsley
The Widow Bach: Anna Magdalena Rediscovered
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail