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 /

More articles by:

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

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castille’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
Gregory Barrett
“Realpolitik” in Berlin: Merkel Fawns Over Kissinger
Louis Yako
The Road to Understanding Syria Goes Through Iraq
Graham Peebles
Grenfell Tower: A Disaster Waiting to Happen
Ezra Rosser
The Poverty State of Mind and the State’s Obligations to the Poor
Ron Jacobs
Andrew Jackson and the American Psyche
Pepe Escobar
Fear and Loathing on the Afghan Silk Road
Andre Vltchek
Why I Reject Western Courts and Justice
Lawrence Davidson
On Hidden Cultural Corruptors
Christopher Brauchli
The Routinization of Mass Shootings in America
Missy Comley Beattie
The Poor Need Not Apply
Martin Billheimer
White Man’s Country and the Iron Room
Joseph Natoli
What to Wonder Now
Tom Clifford
Hong Kong: the Chinese Meant Business
Thomas Knapp
The Castile Doctrine: Cops Without Consequences
Nyla Ali Khan
Borders Versus Memory
Binoy Kampmark
Death on the Road: Memory in Tim Winton’s Shrine
Tony McKenna
The Oily Politics of Unity: Owen Smith as Northern Ireland Shadow Secretary
Nizar Visram
If North Korea Didn’t Exist US Would Create It
John Carroll Md
At St. Catherine’s Hospital, Cite Soleil, Haiti
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Singaporean Conjucture
Paul C. Bermanzohn
Trump: the Birth of the Hero
Jill Richardson
Trump on Cuba: If Obama Did It, It’s Bad
Olivia Alperstein
Our President’s Word Wars
REZA FIYOUZAT
Useless Idiots or Useful Collaborators?
Clark T. Scott
Parallel in Significance
Louis Proyect
Hitler and the Lone Wolf Assassin
Julian Vigo
Theresa May Can’t Win for Losing
Richard Klin
Prog Rock: Pomp and Circumstance
Charles R. Larson
Review: Malin Persson Giolito’s “Quicksand”
David Yearsley
RIP: Pomp and Circumstance
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail