I work with several Iraqi and Iranian doctors, as well as doctors from Saudia Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. They enjoy telling me stories of growing up in their countries, what their family lives were like and what is was like going to school in their home countries. Talking with them has been a real education for me so, I thought perhaps I would share some of what I have learned with folks who perhaps don't know a great deal about those mysterious places in the Middle East. Before I go any further, let me say this is not about politics, so please don't misunderstand me. I don't completely comprehend the complex politics of the Middle East, and for the purposes of this post, they are not relevant.
Until 1920, the country of Iraq did not exist. It was created out of the spoils of the First World War. The Ottoman Empire was carved up and France was given mandate over Syria and Lebanon, while Great Britain was given mandate over Jordan, Palestine and Iraq, of which Baghdad is the largest city. The roots of Baghdad go back to 1200 years B.C., but in the 8th Century A.D., it became an important centre of commerce and education. One university, Bayt al-Hikmah, attracted scholars from all over the world, where students translated Greek manuscripts, preserving them for all time. It was home to great philosophers, scientists, astronomers, mathematicians, doctors, lawyers, engineers, artists, scientists and religious leaders. They studied the works of Aristotle, Plato and Hippocrates. While Europe was still in the Dark Ages, Baghdad was the centre of a rich, intellectual civilization. Today the museums in Baghdad house thousands of priceless ancient artifacts, but the museums have been closed to the public since the invasion in 2003 in order to protect the treasures.
Baghdad is built on the banks of the Tigris River -- one of the four rivers from the Garden of Eden -- and it has a population of approximately 7,000,000, almost the size of New York City. Baghdad has existed through dozens of sieges over the centuries, and it will survive the current one as well. Iraq is a country with a very different culture from ours. We in North America do not fully understand it, nor are we expected to understand it. The doctors with whom I work tell me of their religious traditions, their family traditions and their cultural traditions. Their customs seem so foreign to me, as my customs are foreign to them. They bring to the office wonderful things to eat -- kebbabs, bamia, falafel, dolma, and delicious pastries made with phyllo dough, pistachio nuts and honey. There are special dishes for special feasts, and some of the recipes go back 10,000 years. I find the Iraqis to be very warm, generous people and they love to hug. All I can think is how unfortunate it is when we all have so much to share, that we should spend so much time in unecessary hostilities. We here in North America can be somewhat naïve at times, and often we don't know as much about the rest of the world and the people who inhabit it as we think we do.