No River to Put Out the Flames

During the past year, the Arab Revolutions have seized our news headlines and captured our imaginations. We have been taken aback by the unprecedented tempo of change, entangled with the human toll that paved the way for the downfall of dictators.

The revolutions haven’t been the only ones painting the Arab region’s landscape with blood, too much to be washed away by the tears of those left behind. But the revolutions have derailed our attention from another conflict raging in the midst of our world.

A conflict, almost a war, or on the verge of a civil war? Do terms really matter anymore? Characterized by a recurring pattern of senseless violence, market explosions, killing rampages and booby-trapped cars. That people can hardly follow, unable to keep count of lives lost and solutions failed. Whose “shock and awe” shocked a nation with the sweetness of freedom disregarding what may come as a result, awed a region with the blatant intervention more common of bygone ages.

Where Hammurabi’s[1] heritage doesn’t provide the stability but the harsh punishment. Where the flow of the two rivers[2] are not enough to put out the flames. This, is Iraq.

For paying the price for one of the most daring acts of terrorism in contemporary history. For failing to set a successful precedent in adventures of regime change and imported democratization. For proving that ill-managed diversity has repercussions that can be sometimes irreversible.

Almost nobody in 2003 would have imagined that Arab dictators would one day fall at the hands of their people and not the hands of fate. Regardless, intervention in Iraq was essentially not about freedom nor democracy, since had that been the case, many other countries deserved to be as high on the list or at least would have provided easier victories to emulate. Regardless, it is not about comparing the pre and post Saddam Hussein eras; in the long-run, Iraq is certainly better without him, but not at a time and method of the people’s choosing.

The past year has taught us that revolutions aren’t alien, even to the Arab world. Iraq would have had its revolution. Iraq would have bled but would have fought its murderous tyrant. Iraq may have been under threat of division, but this threat would have come by its own will or maybe avoided, we don’t know. Iraq may have sought foreign intervention, but not had intervention to blame for its war with no end in sight.

Given its similarities to Syria, whether in the type of regime and ideology that reigned over it for decades, or the composition of its population, Iraq’s revolution may have been as bloody as Syria’s. Yet these are the revolutions that are sometimes needed, as baptisms of fire, for nations to evolve. Revolutions imposed are wars, and revolutions suppressed become civil wars. Standing in the way of the natural course of societies brings nothing but greater misery.

Given all the parallels that can be drawn between Beirut in the 70s an 80s and Baghdad today, I cannot but wonder, never hope, if it will face a similar fate as the former. Lebanon, a country whose name also became synonymous with war itself, a shattered country with little to keep it standing but the strength of its people. Beirut had wars to be fought, and civil wars to be settled. It had no one to blame but itself and everything to blame on the war of others. But it was also forgotten, let to slip in the archives of history, until someone discovered it dusty and almost beyond repair. The Arab world cannot afford and should not allow Iraq to become that second Lebanon, burning longer that we will care to remember. Alive in our memories, alive in our consciousness, we should not let Iraq become the story we disregard for being repetitive. We owe it to our region, we owe it to our humanity.

Alive as a cause held up high, alive so that one day, its rivers will put out its burning flames…

[1] The Code of Hammurabi is thought to be the first code of law in recorded history. Set punishments for not abiding by the code were generally harsh, one of which is the concept of an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.”

[2]Two major rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, run through the center of Iraq. In ancient times, most of modern-day Iraq was known as Mesopotamia or the land between the two rivers.

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