Saturday, July 25, 2009

Understanding Iraq by William R. Polk

Ch.1, Ancient Iraq -
Things that influence Iraq still today:
  • Religion-based patriotism & wars justified by religion
  • Poor always "tremendously exploited" - slave labor, military draft
  • The idea of paradise as a garden (due to climate, only the rich had gardens
  • The earliest known code of laws (Hammurabi) is from this area - this was a rigid code of conduct that paved the way for Islam
This was fascinating to me: Assyrians were in the north, Akkadians & Sumerians in the south. An Akkadian ruler, Sargon I, built a town to protect his followers, offering the promise of security & prosperity, grew an army and attack and conquered other towns one by one to unify the south, then they turned on the Assyrian north - Sadam Hussein gained power the same way.

Ch 2, Islamic Iraq:
Muhammad was born around 570 AD.. Much of society at this time is split into family-based factions of about 50 - the land doesn't provide enough resources for more. Factions are always fighting with others, but not within since everyone in your faction is your family. So Muhammad says all believers are "brothers" or family, and thus these smaller factions begin to unite - religious-based clans, rather than kinship-based clans, became larger than the family-based ones, so more joined just to survive. Thus it took only eleven years for Islam to swallow Arabia.

Shia Muslims - non-Arabs or of mixed Arab descent, disenfranchised by ruling Muslims of pure blood, minority that lived in southern Iraq & Iran.
Suni Muslims - pure-blood Muslim Arabs, majority

During the (European) Dark Ages, Baghdad had a thriving book trade. Merchants and craftsmen were organized into guilds - these would use the power of strike against taxes, they still use the same tactic today. Nizam ul-Mulk was a prime minister of sorts in the 900's - he established a college education system and planted the idea that governments are measured by the education of their people. In the 1200's there was a horrific Mongolian invasion (Hulagu Khan), which left its survivors longing for the comfort of spiritual things. Sunnism emphasized law & rationalism as the way of Allah - not something people found comforting, so Sufism, a mix of Islam & Zoroastrianism, spread rapidly. Shiism, already very mystical, became more popular as well.

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