Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Naming of Wars

The Great War became the First World War; the Yom Kippur War was renamed the October War, a recognition that not only Israelis were suffering; already the Hizbollah war is referred to as the summer war, in anticipation of another round that seems inevitable.

We talked for all those long years of the Gulf War, the war in the gulf of misunderstanding and forgetfulness between such near neighbours, Iran and Iraq, so different, so easily confused in a Western atlas or gazetteer, where the gap between 'eraaq and Eeraan is hardly more than that between idiocy and ignorance, between their madness and our malice.

Suddenly, after eight blood-sodden years, and an indecent interval of arms sales and sanctions, a new horror unfolded, a new Gulf War, our boys fighting for blood and oil, sand and glory, trumping the first Gulf War, now banally renamed the Iran-Iraq War, something local, a footnote.

Another interval of indecency followed, more sanctions, blustering, posturing, new actors. Bush for Bush, Blair for Major, Saddam, always Saddam. A new Gulf War, the second, or perhaps the third, like rounds of fighting in Beirut, mocking our counting as they mock the ceasefires. And so the earlier war is renamed the Kuwait War, to mark it apart from Iraq.

Those four jagged letters, four wretched years, Invasion, Resistance, Anarchy, Quagmire, and who knows what more to come? And how shall we name this when some future nightmare supervenes, when Turks meet Saudis, or Iranians Israelis, on the bloodied fields of Karbala?

But Iraq is not a war; it is the land of the two rivers, of palms and fields and mountains, of Babylon and Nineveh, Najaf and Karbala, and above all a land of people, of families, Arab and Kurd, doing their best to kep pride in the face of indignity, to stay human in a flood of inhumanity.

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