Saturday, July 14, 2007

At the Yale University Institute

My mind is reeling from a week spent learning about selected cities in the Middle East--and there's so much else still to absorb! But before I forget, check out this organization, 24 Hours for Darfur, and read about the hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians who have been killed in Darfur, Sudan; you might also upload a video to the site, as well as contact your local senator and Congress person to urge them to take action to stop this genocide. The organization will be broadcasting all of the videos on 16 September during a 24 hour vigil that will be held in front of the United Nations building in New York City.

Well, this was indeed an intense week of learning, but there was quite a bit of fun too (as you can see in the picture of my hennaed hand). What stands out for me, above all else, is the history of Baghdad in Iraq. Yes, despite the barrage of visuals about the continuous destruction and death in Baghdad, by now most of us know that until just recently there were 7 million people in the city, and that it's the second largest city in the Arab world (Cairo, Egypt has 16 million people). Most of us don't know that it was a splendid well-planned city established on the west bank of the Tigris River in July of the year 762; however, archaeological evidence shows that the site had been occupied by various peoples long before the Arabs conquered the area in 637, before the arrival of Islam. It was designed as a circle with radiating rings (like Washington, DC or Paris, for example) and thus has always been called the "Round City" and the "City of Peace." Architects and workers from all over the world took four years to build the city, creating double brick walls, a deep moat, a third innermost wall ninety feet high, four main streets that ended in four gates, and a huge bazaar in the Basra (southern) gate; at the center of this circle was the Caliph's palace and the Great Mosque. My whirling mind won't allow me to fully describe to you the magnificence of old Baghdad...

From its very beginning, Baghdad was a center of commerce and learning where scientists, doctors, philosophers, scholars and writers produced great works and translated hundreds of texts that had been written in Greek, Persian and Syriac, where art, theater and music enriched citizens on a daily basis, where people flocked in order to start a new life! And, Christians, Jews, Muslims and other religions co-existed peacefully. Baghdad remained the largest and most electrifying city in the world until the 930s when Cordoba in Spain claimed that role. Yes, the city was sacked during a war in 1258, but it wasn't until April 2, 2003, when the United States bombed it, that the city experienced mass destruction.

I've been told that Hugh Kennedy's book does a good job of detailing Baghdad's history: When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World: The Rise and Fall of Islam's Greatest Dynasty. Well, the internet cafe is about to close and I must return to the dorm to pack and get ready for our departure to Istanbul tomorrow morning. Thanks for reading.

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