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Trip to Iraq, anyone?
by Cat Ellis
2009-03-29 09:47:22
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Adventure travel has taken on a new meaning. The new travel hotspot has just been announced; Iraq.

The country may not be everyone’s idea of a holiday destination, but for those who like to live dangerously, are bored with the annual package holiday to Europe or those with a passionate interest in ancient and cultural sites, Iraq has a lot to offer.

British tour group, Hinterland Travel, are offering tours to the country, which include visits to Baghdad, Samara and Najaf  with excursions to an array of museums, mosques and shrines. The British company previously offered trips to Iraq, but were forced to put them on hold after the military incursion six years ago amid the dire security situation.

 The first group of holiday makers to take the tour have just returned from Iraq. It was the first officially sanctioned tour of the country outside the northern Kurdish region since the 2003 US-led invasion. The group, consisting of Britons, Australian and American tourists, spent two weeks travelling around the war-torn country, navigating their way through no less than 40 different checkpoints to visit noted sites of Ancient Mesopotamia.

Only a year ago, such a tour would have been unthinkable. But the security situation has so improved dramatically over the past year, that the travel company thought the time was right to reoffer the tours.

With prices just under £2000 for a 17-day holiday, the trip doesn’t come cheap. Insurance is hard to come by, hence why many of those on the tour tend to be in the older age bracket.

And with shabby hotels, cold showers and poor service, the tour offers few luxuries for the extravagant cost. The dire state of Iraq’s infrastructure means that hotels and restaurants have not quite reached the standard they once were. Things are recovering, albeit slowly.

With a much improved security situation in the last year, attention is now being turned to boosting Iraq’s economy. While tourism may not generate anywhere near as much income as oil revenues, it could be seen as important steps in diversifying Iraq’s economy and providing new jobs, opportunities and hope.

Those who have done the trip all agreed it was worth it. The places they visited were among some of the oldest in the world and the people were friendly and welcoming. The ministry of tourism in Iraq is hoping the country will one day recover from its violent reputation and visitors can marvel at what it has to offer.

The next tour is scheduled for April.

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Alexandra Pereira2009-03-29 19:15:18
The strategies to rebuild Iraq should focus on solar power (totally clean, very effective and abundant energy source in Middle East countries too) rather than just oil, an energy source which is going to be substituted sooner or later, and has caused much of the destruction in the region. Meanwhile, tourism (with respect for the historical sites, not vandalic tourism like the one that happened in Machu Picchu and other South American spots, for example, or even the Parthenon) can help much, both in Iraq and Iran. I think it should be, nevertheless, a particular kind of tourism, engaged with helping locals to develop their countries (rather than just sightseeing tours and "typical" dinners with dance-music shows), with a close contact with the population and local organizations, and a type of tourism that could help to surpass the enormous ignorance of Westerners with respect to the Islamic countries and their cultures.

Alexandra Pereira2009-03-29 19:15:49
In the Islamic world, hospitality and other higly civilized values are very important - this should be a plus when it comes to tourism. We always emphasize the sharia laws and other aspects related with Islamic radicals, but we conveniently forget the extremely pacifist philosophies of Islam based on Universal love, like Sufism, the fantastic poetry in Arab language (maybe the best in the world), the incomparable architecture and the philosophies behind it, the love for nature, the pioneerism in astronomy, mathemathics, engineering (most authors credit Sumerians for the invention of the wheel), navigation systems - and all that we received in Europe through the Middle East. The richness of Iraq in terms of culture, arts, history, architecture, ancient civilizations (Babylonians, Assyrians, Sumerians, Akkadians, etc.), philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, poetry and literature (by the way, Sumer is the oldest known written human language, Enheduanna c. 2350 BCE, daughter of the King Sargon, is the earliest author and poet in the world that history knows by name, actually about Babylonian Naditu women: "Naditu lived in monastic buildings, but in general did own their home within these complexes, and were independent. They could engage in contracts, borrow money and perform other business transactions normally denied to women; records show that they were very active. Usually these women were part of the elite, often from royal families (...) There were a lot of writers among the naditu. According to the epic of Gilgamesh, writing is attributed to a goddess. In the temple of Inanna in Erech the earliest writing tablets are found, dating back to the 4th millennium BC. Many naditu lived there as priestess. Along the rivers Tigris and Euphrates many temples are still found in worship of Inanna and where these naditu resided in active service. The 5000 year old temple in Uruk (biblical Erech) is the largest of these" ), prototypic manifestations of current legislative codes, laws and human rights (eg: "Numerous texts were found in Hamurabi legislation to organize a family, to protect the position and role of Babylonian women in ancient Iraq. Women used to have a privilege to divorce from their husbands, and had a privilege to take care of their children, to practice a business, and a legislative facility and independent financial possession from their husband, a privilege in guardianship and living. Severe scandals were put on a person who maltreated a woman or violated her constant rights according to the mentioned law." - Prof. Al Fadhal), and as a place of confluence of Asian influences as well, is (or still was before the war) incomparable.

Emanuel Paparella2009-03-29 21:36:13
Indeed, culture trips focusing on the heritage and the traditions of the people being visited are to be commended and encouraged but I am afraid that nothing will really change till the Westerner continues to travel with an “enlightened” attitude in non Western countries, albeit for cultural purposes, that is to say, an attitude of cultural superiority proclaiming that only the West is wholly modern and that modernity proceeds from the Enlightenment which in turn implies the destruction of religion and spirituality in general, often confused for backwardness and cultic superstition. Often, the very guides of those trips harbor such an attitude. (continued below)

Emanuel Paparella2009-03-29 21:37:24
There is an insightful article in this regard by the Israeli sociologist Shmuel Eisenstadt titled “Multiple Modernities” written in the year 2000 in “Daedalus 129, pp. 1-30) which ought to be a must read for every American and European traveling to non-Western cultures. In it Eisenstadt makes a point that is usually found strange by Westerners; namely this: that most nations that have modernized have not necessarily given up their traditional culture. That is to say, there are multiple modernities and Western modernity is not the only conceivable one. The difference is most apparent in the matter of religion.

There is more than one way of being modern and not all modernities are secular, the majority are not, and they are far from being convergent on the European model which ought not be seen as a prototype. Rather, the United States and Europe should be seen as different variations of modernity. So the crucial question for Eisensdats is this: Is Europe secular because it is modern, or is it secular because it is European? The general conclusion of the article is that what has emerged in Europe is only one among many modernities and the European model is not necessarily the global prototype. A modest proposal: this insightful article ought to be vigorously, but aerenically discussed in the pages of Ovi without ideological lenses, ad hominem arguments or mere animus toward religion and spirituality.

Alexandra Pereira2009-03-30 03:14:34
Who said anything about secularism, Mr. Paparella? In Islamic countries, like in Tibet with Buddhism, or India with Hinduism, religion is a deeply rooted and fundamental part of the culture, and that's fine. But when you identify Saddam as "secular" it makes me laugh... he was many more things other than secular. Of course the European and American models are not applicable elsewhere - they are European and American. Actually, the problem seems to be lately to tolerate secularism...
ps - even Enlightenment was an expression imported to Europe from Asia and the Middle East. The concept exist, as a very important one, both in Islam and Buddhism - and existed way before the century of Lights. In Islam for example, if you study deeply the teachings of Muhammad, people are actually incentivated to use their own reason and intellect intensively, and to reflect deeply. Arabian philosophers were brilliant, you must know that. So brilliant that they even invented secularism as one of the possible modern modernities.

Alexandra Pereira2009-03-30 03:28:58
Maybe they foresaw someone implementing radical sharia or the Inquisition burning Jews, reflected deeply like Muhammad advised, and concluded: "Hummm... we'll better separate these two powers"... whatever the reason, they invented it.

Alexandra Pereira2009-03-30 03:39:44
ps - and it worked out nicely, as they invented it in a place where Jews, Muslims, Berbers and Catholics got along fine for quite some time.

Alexander Mikhaylov2009-03-30 06:32:03
Speaking of Iraq people vis. tourism: They should to create their sort of Disneyland too, where you can see a 'bloody dictator' is being hanged on public and our brave boys are taking care of some particularly some expecially difficult 'site' or 'spot' or whatever,and then they are getting away with them bloody bastards and... so on and so forth... so much fun for British and US CONSUMERS... Otherwise, what your paper money are worth, anyway?

Alexandra Pereira2009-03-30 20:06:17
...They got along fine until some, moved by greed and justified by faith, arrived to "civilize them", that is: destroy the fantastic cultural richness and steal all the wealthiness they had worked together to create.
Mr. Mikhaylov: sure, as if the Soviet Union did never, ever, sell guns to Iran or Iraq during the 80s war...

Emanuel Paparella2009-03-31 12:56:17
"...moved by greed and justified by faith..."

The above juxtaposing of greed and faith is confirmation, if we needed one, of the usual and expected knee jerk reaction of the European "enlightened" intelligentia to anything historically and socially bad anywhere in the world: it is religion's fault, in particular the Christian one. My modest proposal to place on the talbe and discuss Eisensdat's article mentioned above seems to be needed more than ever!

Alexandra Pereira2009-03-31 18:22:14
I wasn't talking about "anything bad in the world", I was mentioning particular historical facts for which my affirmation is deeply valid - not a knee jerk reaction, just an observation confirmed by multiple sources.
And I'm not part of the european intelligentsia, thanks for asking - all the culture surrounding me confirms that I'm part of the Arab heritage, and very proud of that.

Emanuel Paparella2009-03-31 20:50:58
Ms. Pereira, you were the one who mentioned greed justified by faith. Undoubtedly, Aristotle, for one, would not define it as a virtue but as something with such pejorative characteristics and harmful social results as to make it a vice, the contrary of virtue, a “bad” action, no matter the particular culture or even the particular faith (which may consider it a sin to be aware of and to repent of) or even no faith of the ones who habitually practice it. Either you ignored, or perhaps missed the simple point that greed does not need any justification by any faith; it is bad in by itself vis a vis human nature and to associate the two (i.e., faith and greed) in any way reveals at the very least a bias toward faith, be that faith Islamic, Hindu, Christian, or Jewish; a bias particularly evident on the European continent as nowhere else in the world. That too, alas, happens to be validated by ineluctable and documented historical facts for which multiple sources are available, such as the already mentioned articles by Habermas and Einstadt. More often than not it has issued in the denial of a voice to faith and religion in the public square, as many Moslems have vociferously complained in Europe. More on Einstadt’s concept of “multiple modernities” on a forthcoming article. Perhaps we can then continue the discussion a bit more convivially and aerenically, sticking to the search for the objective truth no matter where it leads and less on what one’s subjective biases and agendas may dictate that one “talk about.”

Alexandra Pereira2009-04-01 00:00:04
I mentioned it because it existed, Mr. Paparella. And it still exists today - greed justified by faith, I mean. Just to give another example, when you refer the pillage of Constantinople, how do you explain it? This doesn't imply any kind of bias or prejudice towards faith, only honesty and the observation of historic facts. Sometimes the greedy ones search for other justifications, but faith still is among their favorite excuses. And when one points that, they say they are being persecuted. It's not faith's fault, of course - poor faith, it is no one's property! But if major religious leaders pactuate with that and conspire to hide the truth or distort History, often for generations, I get an allergic reaction. Can't help it...
Oh, the objective, unbiased truth - right... Despite your propaganda (or because of it), I would say that was never one of your favorites.
Take Iberia, for example. How could the religious leaders, with the support of the respective governments, repress and "clean" almost 8 centuries of History even from the History books at school? - when spanish fiesta, our musical instruments and food, our architecture, our myths and legends, our arts, our poetry and literature, our national songs, our navigation, engineering and agriculture systems, our currencies, our spirit and personality, our love for wandering, our traditional ways of dressing, our love for the south, our toponomy, our astronomy, our maths and sciences, our names - all that is Arabic and Berber in soul and heritage? And still, two horrifying dictatorships deeply rooted in Catholic faith (with very close relationships with its most important leaders), during the 20th century (even more recently than the Holocaust, an example you like to mention...), tried to erase all that once again - the second Crusade, you could call it.

Alexandra Pereira2009-04-01 03:06:51
Most of my people's ancestors came from the vastness of the desert and the adventures of the sea, from the Middle East to the Atlantic Islands, from Senegal to the Ebro river. To deny that is to assassinate the foundations of our culture and the innermost qualities/heart of our collective soul - Berber and Arab. When the Arabs arrived to Iberia, they were hundreds of years ahead both of the local tribes (which came originally from Northern and Eastern Europe) and the rest of the Europeans in terms of civilization, culture, sophistication, sensibility, humane qualities (yes!) and all areas of human knowledge. Independently of the dictators or radicals who may rule Arab and Islamic countries currently, or may have ruled in the past, sometimes I wonder just for myself if they - the people, the heart of their cultures - are still ahead of us in a way which we can not perceive nor understand in the West. Humbleness, reflexion, an immensely rich culture, abundance of the most noble human feelings, deep and honest modesty, faithfulness, courage, independent nature, study, sensibility, the duty of hospitality, deep values like friendship, love for harmony, joy and leisure, discipline, miscegenation, the relativity of the material or mundane realities are definitely important signs of the Arab world as the Iberians firstly got to know it. The last centuries of Catholicism have been exemplar not only in despising but in "cleaning/erasing" all that rich heritage as well - trying to convert a Berber and nomadic nature into a domestic pet, a natural grace into Seminar boys, the easiness with and acceptance of instincts into a labyrinth of complexes, blame and shame, the discipline and control of the collective self into a dictatorial moral with sad repercussions, the natural joy in leisure into work and punishment, and exploitation.
Gladly, I assist while Iberians have lately been searching for answers in their true roots - and identifying themselves with it all. It's like seeing a photo of yourself after 500 years of lies, silence and distortions, and declaring: "Wait a minute: I recognize this person... Actually, this person looks very familiar! My God: that's me!!". Imagine the shock.

Alexandra Pereira2009-04-01 03:27:58
Independently of the official positions of our governments, all Iberians feel deep sympathy for Palestine. In a similar way, they can't help feeling deeply for the tragic destiny of Israel's state. At the same time, they wonder why all that blood and recall that there was a time many centuries ago - under the caliphs - when Arabs, Berbers, Catholics and Jews lived together in peace inside the same cities in Iberia, and it was natural. What has changed? Does it make any sense? Iberians have deep answers for those questions, answers justified by History and experience.

Emanuel Paparella2009-04-01 13:10:29
For whatever it may be worth to you and other readers, Ms. Pereira, allow me to explain, to myself if nobody else, what I consider the intriguing feature of this exchange, beyond mere information and historical documentation and smoke and mirrors; it is this paradox often found among the leftist activist intelligentia in the West: while proclaiming toleration for all sorts of aberrant notions and practices, when it comes to religion, especially the Christian and particularly its Catholic version, the toleration and conviviality suddenly stops and the ugly face of intolerance is adopted. Suddenly this particular religion which has given the world thousand of saints and martyrs has nothing good to offer anybody, it is the place of bigots, persecutors, crusaders, racists, retrogrades, Vatican spies, close-minded jerks and assholes, all terms which, as you know, have been liberally used in this very magazine, a boorishness allegedly justified by free speech till it reached absurd proportions and caused a furor about the straw man “f word” and had to be moderated…and whose unrepentant practitioner has suddenly disappeared from the magazine, most probably in angry protest, if I know anything about the nature of this bizarre phenomenon. (continued below)

Emanuel Paparella2009-04-01 13:10:56
And all this is done in the name of justice, love of the poor, the vulnerable and downtrodden who allegedly are the victims of this monstrous religion that ought to be wiped out from the face of the earth as the “enlightened” man Voltaire suggested. In Bernano’s Diary of a Country Priest there is a proverbial exchange between two catholic priests where the activist of the two makes and impassioned and angry plea for action on behalf of the poor blaming it all on the swinish exploitative capitalist. The other priest retorts that the mode in which the plea was made leads him to wonder whether it is motivated by love of the poor or jealousy of the rich. Food for thought.

Alexandra Pereira2009-04-01 20:20:42
Mr. Paparella, my comments haven't got much to do with politics, they have to do with general History and the search for a people's identity - instead of its cleansing and murder. That resumes my whole interest in this subject matter. My personal opinions do not reflect any party's position - I'm not a member of any party -, but they do reflect the opinion and feelings of many Iberians - who, by the way, have been adopting Islamic faith again for the last decade or so (Islamic Sufi leaders perform celebrations in Spain regularly, Lisbon's mosque has more and more followers, Iberian Sufi groups are growing), collaborating with Middle Eastern musicians and finding out that their rythms match perfectly, visiting regularly the North of Africa, discovering again the roots of their culture in literature, in architecture, in the arts, in science and maths, in philosophy, etc. Actually, they seem to be in syntony with the will recently manifested by many Americans and their President - a will to approach all cultures and faiths without ignorant biases (and I'm sure you wouldn't call that a mark of leftist European intelligentsia...). The same way that I'm not part of any leftist activist intelligentsia, European or otherwise, I could have plenty of reasons to suspect that you're part of the right Catholic American militant conservative groups, or even Opus Dei. If you read me right, I didn't write about the faith or the religion, but the distorted use some make of it, as well as about some of its representatives (who can be, and always were, as vicious and greedy as any other political leaders).

Alexandra Pereira2009-04-01 20:26:05
errata - rhythm

Alexandra Pereira2009-04-01 20:35:15
I just say: it's a pity for us, or absolutely disastrous, to see the hate growing and causing so many dead between people and faiths who could in the past get along fine. Until a certain epoch, that was never a problem - even a Spanish king had a son with a Muslim woman, who would have inherited the Spanish trone (in spite of having two older christian sisters) if he hadn't died while a teenager. We're the living memory of that, most Iberians have at least 2 or 3 different religions in their background, adopted by their ascestors (who eventually got married and had children together...). Why does it happen? Who is manipulating faith to achieve something else? In the name of what? Those are pertinent questions.

Alexandra Pereira2009-04-01 20:38:17
errata - ancestors

Emanuel Paparella2009-04-01 20:53:26
Ms. Pereira, have you have ever heard of "freedom of religion" commonly accepted even by Opus Dei? No, I don't belong to Opus Dei nor am I a spokesperson for the Vatican as has formerly been repeatedly gratuitously implied in the comment section of Ovi, nor am I on the right or on the left of the political spectrum, especially the two extremes, nor do I care much if you wish to continue suspecting right or left wing conspiracies; you may do at your heart's content; the thing I will continue to insist on however, is that when we critique institutions that are millenia hold, we do so not with half-truths and biased historical recollectio; the whole truth needs to be told, not what is convenient for one's political-cultural agenda.

Had you read my contributions a bit more carefully and serenely you'd have known that I have no great sympathy for political labels and pigeonholes. It is my experience in fact that what irritates the leftist political zelots the most is to meet somebody whom they cannot conveniently pigeonhole in some rationalistic scheme of theirs, and may simply be interested in pursuing the truth no matter where it may lead. That is too bad, because to judge others by one's own preferences is a sure formula for self-deception and a refusal to truly dialogue in a convivial mode.

Emanuel Paparella2009-04-01 21:03:05
Errata: millennia old.

Alexandra Pereira2009-04-04 19:49:22
Let me laugh - Opus Dei as an example of tolerance! You are certainly joking!
As for the rest, I share your concerns about pigeonholes and labels.

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