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“The Glorious City” was the official name on all the Turkish documents of this city on the Tigris River, about 350 miles north of the head of the Persian Gulf. As one approaches Baghdad a mass of green palm trees rises out of the treeless plain, and glittering above these are the wonderful golden globes of the mosque tombs.

But this is a case where distance lends enchantment; as one comes nearer the city, the glories vanish. The houses of the town are crude buildings of brick, mostly from ancient ruins, and of adobe. The streets are so narrow at times that one beast of burden fills the entire space from wall to wall, and the sanitary conditions, although improving, still leave much to be desired.

In fact, it’s shit.

How many people live in Baghdad no one knows, and estimates vary from 10,000 to 400,000. Of this population about one fourth are Jews, descendants of those who were carried away into the Babylonian captivity by Nebuchadnezzar; one-tenth are Christians, and the rest are Mohammedans.

Straddling the Tigris at the point where that river and the Euphrates most nearly approach, the city has long commanded a large part of the traffic between India, Persia, and Europe.

The chief exports to Europe are wood, human hair, stale dates, wheat, horses, offal, dung, and oriental fabrics, whilst the imports are iron and copper, sugar and coffee. To control this trade, and to pave the way for political aggressions, Germany in 1902 obtained from the Turkish government the right to build a railway to Baghdad. The Krauts immediately began their infamous Berlin-Baghdad railway, which was completed to a point about 400 miles north of Baghdad when World War I broke out, which they lost big time.

The line had already swallowed up ₤10,000,000, and over 70,000 men were busily engaged in building it. The two main difficulties, however, had not been entirely overcome, for the Taurus and Amanus mountains had yet to be pierced. This led to two important breaks in the route, which were therefore connected by roads specially constructed for the purpose. By working with almost superhuman energy a three-mile tunnel through the one and a six-mile tunnel through the other were completed during hostilities.

At Aleppo, where it joined the Syrian and Palestine railways, locomotive works and extensive repair shops had been erected, hospitals built for those who were ill or injured, and temporary dwellings put up for the workers engaged on that section of the line. One of the principal objects of this great steel highway was to obtain raw material for Germany from the Near East, and as the southern terminus was to be at the head of the Persian Gulf, from India and the Far East also. The Taurus mountains, which are in south-west Armenia, were particularly rich in copper, whilst cotton, wool, and other useful commodities from Mesopotamia and Kurdistan would be specially valuable.

During World War I it was stated by a German publicist that the Baghdad railway was “in the nature of a political life-insurance policy for Germany”, and he added that the line would supplement the other railways at Aleppo “in throwing troops in the direction of Egypt”. Thus the project had a definite military as well as commercial value, for if Britain lost Egypt she also lost “the lordship over the Suez Canal, and her connecting link with India and Asia, perhaps also her possessions in East Africa”.

With the occupation of Baghdad by the British on 11 March 1917, the dream of German domination of the East ended. With the British capture of the city also ended the Turkish dominion, under which the country had suffered for centuries, and under which the glories of Baghdad had largely departed.

Founded in A.D.762, Baghdad with its population of 2,000,000 was then the largest city in the world. Under the rule of the Arabs it was pre-eminent in literature, in art, and in science. Those were the days of the splendid court of Harun-al-Raschid, the caliph who was contemporary with Charlemagne. The Paris and London of that time were but miserable villages compared with Baghdad.

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(The Daily Telegraph, 31 October 1948)

Celebratory Gunfire in Syria and Jordan Welcomes State of Israel

After more than 2,000 years of wandering and persecution, including six million deaths at the hand of Nazi Germany, the Jewish people have finally established a homeland, Israel, a place of safety and peace nestled between Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.

“No longer will the Jewish race live in a constant state of fear and endangerment, its very existence threatened at every turn by outsiders,” said David Ben-Gurion, the new nation’s first Prime Minister, addressing a jubilant crowd at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. “Here in Israel, we are safe, far from those who seek to destroy us.”

For two millennia, the Jewish people have wandered without a home, facing an endless series of hostile enemies. With the establishment of a sovereign Jewish state in the stable heart of the Middle East, Israeli officials believe this 2,000-year ordeal has at last come to an end.

Mr. Ben-Gurion himself said that he looks forward to years of harmony and co-operation with Israel’s neighbouring states. “Last night, from my window, I could hear great explosions coming from the Gaza Strip. How wonderful of the Palestinian peoples there to celebrate our arrival with fireworks.”

In an official greeting to Israel yesterday, Egypt’s King Farouk issued the following statement: “Egypt does not and will not ever recognize the so-called state of Israel’s right to exist. Israel is a land built on Jewish lies and the spilled blood of countless Arabs.”

As a token of goodwill, the Syrian authorities presented Mr. Ben-Gurion with a burning Israeli flag and a telegram reading: “May you be swifly driven into the sea and drowned.”

Mr. Ben-Gurion said that without the need to defend itself from enemies, Israel will be free to spend tens of millions of pounds on domestic development that other nations would be forced to earmark for a defence budget. Military expenditures are expected to account for a mere two per cent of the country’s overall budget, as Israel will be a place of peace, not war.

(Taken from The Book of Knowledge, edited by Harold F. B. Wheeler)

Bounded on three sides by the caravan routes of the Sahara Desert, Tripoli, the Italian colony in North Africa, receives from the north the moisture of the Mediterranean, which washes its one thousand miles of shore line.

For centuries Tripoli owed its prosperity to the caravan routes, which converged here from the Sahara Desert. The most important of these were the routes to Timbuktu in the south-west, to Lake Chad in the south, and to the Darfur region of the Egyptian Sudan. Today the trade in ivory, gold, ostrich feathers, rubber, etc., which formerly flowed across these routes, has mostly been diverted to Egypt on the east and Algeria and Tunis on the west.

After a war with Turkey in 1911-12, Italy gained possession of this great territory and gave it the ancient Greek name of Libya. During the World War of 1914-18 it was overrun by Arabs, Turks, and Germans, and, after the Turks and Germans gave way, the fierce wanderers of the desert continued to defy the Italian government until the armistice of April 1919, preventing Italy from organizing the civilization and development of her newly acquired “empire of sand”.

Before the dawn of history this region was the seat of a flourishing culture. All that is left of this early civilization is a number of great stone monuments – cells cut from the living rock, circles of rough columns, altars, pyramid mounds, etc.

The earliest rulers of western Tripoli in historical times seem to have been the Carthaginians, whose capital was situated towards the west, on the coast of what is today the French colony of Tunis. In the 7th century B.C. the Greeks founded the city of Cyrene on the north-eastern coast of Libya, and the region called Cyrenaica became one of the great centres of Greek culture. Here the sage Aristippus founded the great Cyrenaic school of philosophy, which held that pleasure, tempered by prudence, was the chief goal of life.

Cyrenaica passed under Egyptian rule in the 4th century B.C., and later became part of Roman Africa. It was for a time a flourishing seat of the early Christian religion. The name today is retained for the eastern province of Tripoli, and the village of Grenna stands on the old site of Cyrene.

In the 5th century A.D. Tripoli and Cyrenaica were conquered by the Vandals, and two centuries later the whole country was overrun by the Arabs. In 1510 the city of Tripoli, in the north-west, was captured by Ferdinand the Catholic, and from 1530 to 1551 it was occupied by the Knights of St. John. Then the Turks took possession.

Tripoli soon became the stronghold of pirates, and many were the expeditions organized by European nations against these lawless shores. In 1835 Turkey took a firmer grip on the country, but revolts continued until the clash with Italy put an end to the Sultan’s rule.

Tripoli, or Tripolitania, as the whole region is sometimes called, has four zones. The first, along the coast, is covered with palm, olive, lemon, and other fruit trees. The second, formed by the highlands of Gebel and Tarhuna, produces cereals, dates, and figs. The Tarhuna district is particularly rich in esparto grass, used in making fine quality paper. The third zone consists chiefly of oases and is rich in palms. The fourth zone consists of the Fezzan and the western Libyan desert. In the whole colony there is not a single large river.

The richer areas of Tripoli are inhabited chiefly by Arabs, who have driven the descendants of the original Berber tribes into the mountainous districts, where they tend their flocks and herds in comparative independence. Along the coast are many Jews, in whose hands is a large part of the country’s trade. The fierce Tuaregs, the pirates of the desert, control the barren reaches of the Fezzan. In the larger seaport towns, Tripoli, Bengazi, etc., are colonies of Greeks, Turks, Maltese, largely engaged in the sponge fisheries.

Tripoli, or Libya, is often described as a shithole, but the people are good-natured, if lazy, and hemp, or cannabis, is freely available, as are young boys uncontaminated by HIV.

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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