The Friends of California Libre...

27 March 2003

The Arabian Nights

Greetings, friends,
Hope you all are well...if you're in Los Angeles, I'm going to try something I haven't done in a while and invite y'all to a pair of interesting events; the mood is dark enough and they're perfect for ameliorating that mood. That hot desert wind is blowing and turning the sky gray.

First, this weekend the New Beverly is showing what is (IMHO, anyway) the greatest of Hollywood's "golden age" romantic comedies, "Trouble in Paradise" (Ernst Lubitsch, 1932). Like most of these comedies, it's got screwball antics, a pair of jewel thieves, lavish parties, and whipcrack dialogue. It's also set in Venice and Paris (sigh) so how could you not like it? Anyway, let me know if you're interested (and what day) 'cause I'm going even if Saddam unleashes a genie on us:
New Beverly Theatre, 2 blocks west of La Brea (on Beverly)
Friday, 28 March, 9.20 pm; Saturday, 29 March, 8.00 pm

Also, there is another demonstration this Sunday, beginning on Pershing Square at 12.00 pm. Afterwards at 8.00 pm, 20s chanteuse Janet Klein will be reading poetry and playing her ukelele at the "Smart Girls Speakeasy", on the corner of Rodney and Prospect (a block north of La Luz de Jesus) under the church...the password is "You should see those hula dollies, they're better than the Goldwyn follies" (they're serious.) It's $5 and I can recommend Miss Klein as someone who can lift your spirits.

And so, open sesame, let the screed links, this time, just a little history about what we're up against:

c. 4500 BCE - On the outskirts of modern An Nasiriya (the scene of much fighting in the last few days), the ziggurat and city of Ur is founded in Mesopotamia. This is, by most accounts, the first city on the Earth. The legendary Garden of Eden is east of here, near the Persian Gulf. The pyramids in Egypt will not be built for another 2000 years. The Sumerians are the first to develop agriculture, animal husbandry and written language, before even (yeah) the Chinese.

c. 1900 - The development of Babylon, just south of the modern city of Karbala. Babylon remains the capital for about 500 years. Around 1800, Hammurabi creates the first legal code (eye for an eye, yeah, blah blah blah.)

c. 1400 - Babylon declines; in its place come the Assyrians, who live further to the north. Around this time, the Trojan War probably took place.

705 - After 150 years at Nimrud, the Assyrians move their capital to Nineveh, now the city of Mosul in Iraqi Kurdistan. Nineveh is conquered in 612 BCE (as described in the Bible in the story of Jonah.)

604 - Nebuchadnezzar creates the "Neo-Babylonian" Empire and rebuilds Babylon. Although it only lasts 60 years, this is the Babylon so fondly recounted in the Bible; the builders of the Tower of Babel and the enslavers of the super-religious nomads along the Mediterranean. During their captivity in Babylon, the nomads of Judea are inspired by the local Zoroastrians (the oldest monotheistic religion) to become monotheistic themselves, create a book of laws (the Torah) which establishes their identity for the first time, and will be known after this as the Jews.

539 - Babylon is conquered by Cyrus II, the founder of the Persian Empire, who frees the Jews and send them back to create the Temple at Jerusalem. Around the same time, the poet Sappho is strumming her lyre in Lesbos, and the city of Athens is building up its navy. The Chinese have had an advanced society for 1000 years.

521 - The Persian Empire stretches from India to Egypt. Darius sends a huge army and navy against the Greeks, but their craftiness saves them.

485 - Xerxes tries to defeat the Greeks again, but his navy is destroyed off the coast of Athens. 50 years later, the Greeks start fighting each other, the terrible war of Athens and Sparta that lasts for 30 years and eventually ruins the amazing hub of democracy and culture at Athens. This war was the subject of the "Lysistrata".

336 BCE- The young and brilliant Macedonian Alexander the Great comes to power. He unifies the Greek city-states and conquers the Persian Empire with a small army. He burns the Persian winter capital at Susa and summer capital at Persepolis (in modern Iran), then leads his army towards Afghanistan and India. Unable to defeat the Indians, he marches back to Babylon and dies there at a rather young age. Mesopotamia is occupied by Greeks, Parthians, Persians and Romans for the next few centuries. The Romans invade several times but never get control of this slippery place. It turns into an agricultural backwater for a thousand years.

570 CE - Mohammad is born in Mecca.

637 - The city of Basra is founded near the mouth of the Tigris River. Five years after Mohammad dies in Medina (Saudi Arabia), Khalid ibn Al-Walid occupies Iraq, then controlled by the Persians. The Roman Empire is a memory and Europe is overrun by primitive Germanic tribes. In North America, cities are being built in New Mexico by the Anasazi, the Yucatan by the Mayan, and northern Mexico by the Chichimec, the ancestors of the Aztecs. The Quechua are building cities on the Altiplano in Peru. The Chinese Empire is thousands of years old. In Europe, the only hint of civilization and learning are the books copied by devout monks on tiny islands off the coast of Ireland. The Christians have burnt down the library at Alexandria.

656 - The Caliphs have conquered most of North Africa. Ali, Mohammad's cousin, becomes the Caliph.

661 - Ali is assassinated by followers of the Omayyads. The Omayyad Caliphate builds a Muslim capital at Damascus in modern Syria. This empire soon stretches from India to northern Spain. The Sunnis (followers of the Caliphate) believe that Islam is a state religion, with leaders chosen by clerics. The Shi'ites (followers of Ali) believe that only descendents of Mohammad can lead Islam. The split continues to this day. The Omayyads reach furthest into Europe in 732, when they are defeated by the French at Poitiers, near Tours.

750 - Jaafar Al-Mansur begins the Abbasid Caliphate, which takes control from the Omayyads after they fail to conquer Constantinople (modern Istanbul). He builds a new capital city near the old Roman outpost of Ctesiphon, 50 miles from Babylon, and names it Baghdad. It will be the capital of the Muslim Empire for the next 500 years, and becomes the center of education and learning in the Western world. While Europe festers in the Dark Ages, Baghdad is a city of astronomers, explorers, doctors, lawyers, scientists, and poets. The University of Al-Mustansirea is the first of its kind. These are the days of Sindbad and the Arabian Nights; it is difficult to imagine the comparison between this enlightened state and the barbarity in Europe. The only civilized parts of Europe are in southern Spain - Sevilla, Grenada and Cordoba.

1077 - The Seljuk Turks take control of the Muslim Empire. They conquer Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, the last remnant of the Roman Empire. To rescue the Byzantine church, the Crusades are begun, with small-time European kings building armies to attack the Turks and the Arabs and drive them from the Holy Land (Constantinople, Damascus, and Jerusalem). This war is, guess what, still going on 950 years later.

1187 - Salah Al-Kin Al-Ayyubi (Saladin) pretty much ends the Crusades in Palestine by whipping the English at Jerusalem.

1258 - Weakened by the Crusades, the Muslim Empire is attacked by the Mongols, and Baghdad is sacked. The Muslims have lost all of Spain but Grenada. The Seljuks move the capital to Bursa, and 200 years later to Istanbul.

1393 - Baghdad is occupied by the murderous Mongol Tamerlane, who was so nicely portrayed by John Wayne in "The Conqueror". Iraq goes to sleep for another 500 years.

1914 - Just before World War I, the Ottoman Turks sell the concession for the Turkish Petroleum Company to the British...this is the beginning of the modern "Middle East".

1916 - The British capture Baghdad. A rebellion breaks out and is ruthlessly put down.

1921 - The British make King Feisal the King of Iraq. Iraq becomes independent in 1932.

1941 - The Iraqis try, unsuccessfully, to expel the British who are protecting their oil concession.

1958 - Feisal II is assassinated, the monarchy is overthrown and Iraq becomes a Republic under General Qasim. Qasim tries to join the United Arab Republic of Syria and Egypt. Over the next 20 years, while the rest of the Arab states fester in dying monarchies or corrupt states propped up by the United States or the Soviet Union, Iraq becomes the most modern nation in the Middle East, with universal suffrage, sophiticated agriculture, sewage and utility systems, national health care and mandatory education. The University of Baghdad (designed by Walter Gropius, a founder of the Bauhaus) is the center of learning in the Middle East once again.

1963 - Qasim is killed in a coup, and replaced by Abdul Arif.

1968 - The Socialist Ba'ath Party takes control of Iraq under Ahmed Hassan Al-Bakr, who moves Iraq closer to the Soviet Union. That's when they bought all the tanks they have now.

1974 - Supported by Iran (under the Shah), the Kurds rise up in northern Iraq; thousands are killed and some cities are razed to the ground.

1979 - Saddam Hussein takes control from Al-Bakr in a bloody coup; over 400 members of the Ba'ath Party are purged a la Stalin. After the Iranian Revolution, he attacks Iran in 1980 with support from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United States.

1988 - Unable to beat the Iranians, Hussein sues for peace. He puts down a Kurdish uprising with great violence. The Saudis and the Kuwaitis demand repayment for money and weapons they provided Iraq. Instead Hussein occupies Kuwait for 5 months in 1990, and is expelled in 1991.

2003 - Pissed off that Hussein tried to kill his father and refuses to toe his line, an idiot from Texas sends 200,000 men into Mesopotamia to level it once again.

To be continued...

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