Tales of Iraq

The Porter’s Tale

The most celebrated storyteller in the world is surely the legendary Scheherazade – a woman and a Muslim – who tamed a tyrant with her tales. Persuaded that all women are faithless the cuckolded king Shahrayar metes out collective punishment to the entire sex, wedding and bedding a different girl each night only to have her killed the following morning. Scheherazade, an educated woman who understands the power of narrative, gambles her own life to stop the slaughter. Offering herself in marriage, she beguiles Shahrayar with her yarns and stops at a cliff-hanger as the sun rises each day in order that he will delay her execution. Eventually her stories cure the king of his rage and his pain and teach him to love once more. Continue reading »

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The Tale of the Bloodied Soldier

I was once asked to talk at a local political meeting about the impact of sanctions on the civilians of Iraq. Amongst the audience I noticed a man with a military bearing and clipped white moustache who looked distinctly out of place. Intrigued, I sought him out when the meeting was over and asked him what had prompted him to come. He replied that he was not really interested in politics but he had a great affection for Iraq. This was his story: Continue reading »

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The Whore of Babylon



There are few words in English more evocative or thrilling than the name ‘Babylon’. As a child I believed the city was itself a fantasy – a biblical legend, the work of fabulous imagination. Western civilization, we were told at school, started in Athens and Rome. I knew little of Mesopotamia until I was about to go to Iraq and learned that Babylon and many other ancient cities besides lie within the country’s borders.

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Iraq, Newspeak and the War on the Imagination



Iraqi Artists decorates blast wall around the US ‘green zone’. Photo by John Spanner for NYT

As a film-maker and journalist who had spent time in Baghdad, I was asked to talk at a number of meetings prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Like many people I believed the machinations around ‘WMDs’ to be a pretext for war that concealed a different agenda – an agenda driven by a powerful coincidence of economic, strategic and ideological interests. I was skeptical, too, that the invasion would bring true ‘liberation’ to the Iraqi people, since I did not believe it was intended to do so. Unfortunately history has proved those who opposed the war right in both these regards. What follows is the transcript of a speech I made at a public meeting at Sussex University in March 2003, as reprinted in Eclipse Magazine.

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