Stretching history until it snaps
Blaming ancient Iraqis for White America’s spiritual vacuum is not based on facts
By Nahid Khan
As a member of the Religion Newswriters Association, I receive a fascinating assortment of mailings from various organizations involved with religion.
Last spring, I received a copy of Sacred Fire, a magazine whose subheading (for issue four) was “The Experience of Spiritual Connection” but which now is “The Modern Voice of Ancient Tradition.”
I had it pegged as a periodical addressing alternative spiritualities and curled up for a potentially insightful window onto spiritual paths I previously was not aware of, innovative forms of devotional life, and the search for natural forms of healing, native wisdom and positive relationships as well as – of course – ways of living in harmony with the environment.
The featured article on the cover, however, was not on these topics but on something unexpected. It was an article apparently related to race, which is a topic not often addressed by alternative spirituality journals. When the topic of race is acknowledged, it usually is in terms of non-white racial and ethnic groups as a source of much-needed traditional wisdom for the modern “white” world.
Entitled “Why whites are the lost people,” the article that caught my eye was written by Thom Hartmann, an environmental activist and progressive talk show radio host (on Air America Radio Network), amongst numerous other achievements.
Hartmann attempted to explain why “white people” destroyed so much of Native America but now seek out Native Americans and their spirituality: to replace the spirituality and harmony white people once possessed but which was destroyed by “the original dominator kingdom” of Mesopotamia. As he developed this argument, he linked Gilgamesh and ancient Ur with Saddam Hussein, Baghdad, Iraq, and the contemporary Middle East and Muslim world.
In other words, the people who are really responsible for the destruction of Native America are not the Europeans and European-Americans because the latter also are victims: victims of Mesopotamians as the ancestors of today’s Iraqis, Arabs, Middle Eastern peoples, and Muslims.
This astonishing and obviously ahistoric argument deserved a response, so I sent one to Sacred Fire. Their editors kindly published an edited version as a long letter to the editor in issue six this fall, and I am grateful for their consideration.
Naturally, I think the full version deserves a wider audience who might appreciate knowing about the existence of yet another kind of hostile discourse concerning Muslims; in this case originating not from the usual suspects on the extreme right-wing of the political spectrum but from the extreme left-wing of the social spectrum.
Thus, I present it here, slightly revised for this blog.
No Basis in History
Dear friends at Sacred Fire:
The other day I received a copy of issue four of Sacred Fire in the mail. Thank you. I found your magazine very interesting. I am writing, however, to express my concerns as a Muslim regarding the article entitled “The Lost People” by Thom Hartmann on pages 20-25.
This article, originally published in 1998 in Spirit of Change magazine, contained his argument that white people are interested in Native American culture and spirituality because they have utterly lost their own “original” spirituality which existed in Europe prior to the Celtic invasions and later the domination of Greco-Roman civilization and Christianity.
These destructive events are then attributed to Mesopotamian civilization as the original “dominator” civilization which spread its destructive attitudes to these other civilizations.
This argument has no basis in history.
First, there is at least one pre Indo-European/Aryan cultural group still remaining in Europe: the Basques who speak the Euskadi language which is utterly unlike the later Indo-European/Aryan languages.
Second, the Indo-European/Aryan invaders are the first “dominator-kingdoms” of human civilization. They arrived in Europe in numerous waves from the area north and east of the Black Sea beginning around 4000 B.C. and continuing for millennia. They also invaded the Middle East, North Africa and South Asian subcontinent and, at various times during the next 5,000 years conquered or destroyed many of the existing civilizations in these regions as well as in Europe.
Third, the Indo-Europeans are the parent culture of not only the Celts, Greeks and Romans and their contemporaries, but also the Germanic, Scandinavian and Slavic peoples in Europe, the Persians and Kurds in the Middle East, and the Hindus of India.
Fourth, the ancient Mesopotamians are neither the parent civilization of the Indo-Europeans/Aryans nor were they its destroyers, or the destroyers of an indigenous original European culture or spirituality. In 4000 B.C., Ur was no more than a village and did not become a full-fledged city-state until around 3000 B.C. Its political power or that of other ancient Mesopotamian city-states did not extend beyond the Middle East, and subsequent Middle Eastern empires rarely controlled territory in present-day Europe.
For much of this time, however, Europe was subjected to invasions by one or another Indo-European/Aryan population. Their descendants are the ancestors of most of today’s European and European-American populations.
Thus, Hartmann’s argument is based on historical misinformation.
Hartmann’s Argument: Don’t Blame the White Man for World Destruction, Blame Iraqis
Here is his claim (on page 23-24):
“When we track it back, it seems likely that it all began – the entire worldwide 5000-year-long orgy of genocide and cultural destruction – in a part of the Middle East known then as Ur and now called Iraq. It started with a man named Gilgamesh, or one of his ancestors, in an area now called Baghdad. The first conquerors – the first people to rise up and discard the Great Law – were not the “White Men” of Europe. They were, instead, the people of the region where the Middle East meets northern Africa. (Which is why this area is referred to as the “Cradle of [our] Civilization.” Their direct descendant is not the Pope or the Queen of England or King of Spain, but a man named Saddam Hussein.
And so my people – who in the lands of Europe three thousand years ago lived the Red Road in harmony with the world, as your people did four hundred years ago – were stripped of their tribes, of their languages, of their ways, of their medicine, of their rituals, of their elders. And it was done by a people who, themselves, had it done to them…by another people who had it done to them – all the way back to the first “eruption of human insanity”: the City/State of Ur (now called Baghdad) and its king, Gilgamesh or his predecessor, 5000 to 7000 years ago.”
There is a considerable academic literature on the Indo-Europeans (see, for example, the book In Search of the Indo-Europeans by J.P Mallory (1989)) which shows that they were the first to domesticate the horse, develop wheeled horse-drawn chariots and to use them in the conquest of other lands and peoples. The Indo-Europeans/Aryans were a pastoral, nomadic people constantly searching for resources, and this stimulated their innovations in weaponry and warfare which were used to invade lands settled by agriculturally-based populations which supported city-states.
This is opposite to Hartmann’s argument that city-states in the Middle East (such as Ur) were the original “dominator-kingdoms.”
I expected your magazine to be a source of spiritual reflection and information about the world’s indigenous wisdom traditions, and knowledge about their application in today’s world. Thus, this article was profoundly disturbing as it revealed that even those who are attempting to rise above materialism to consider spiritual connections are not immune to ethnic prejudice and political bias, or the misuse of spiritual discourse to enmify groups of “others.”
Hartmann appears to have attempted to shift blame from Europeans as destroyers of Native American peoples, cultures and lands to ancient Middle Easterners. He then appears to have attempted to link those ancient Middle Easterners to contemporary Middle Easterners. He presents ancient Ur as the same as present-day Baghdad, although Ur was located approximately 225 miles south of Baghdad (near the present-day town of Nasiriya).
Gilgamesh was the king of Uruk not Ur as Hartmann seems to think (and, by the way, Uruk was about 70 miles northwest of Ur or 155 miles south of Baghdad) in about 2700 B.C. Hartmann presents Gilgamesh as the original world-conqueror living about 5,000 to 7,000 years ago, and his people are presented as the “the first eruption of human insanity.” Their “direct descendant” according to Hartmann is Saddam Hussein (even though the latter was from Tikrit, 100 miles northwest of Baghdad and about 250 miles north of Uruk).
Hartmann argues that the first conquerors and first to discard the “Great Law” (nowhere defined but presumably the peaceful, harmonious, Earth-connected, Creator-centered path Hartmann is attempting to extol) were the ancient peoples of “the region where the Middle East meets northern Africa.”
Thus, his linkage of Ur to Baghdad and Gilgamesh to Saddam Hussein suggests that the contemporary people of Iraq, Arab world, Middle East and perhaps the entire Muslim world are implicated in, and are even the true culprits behind, “the entire worldwide 5000-year-long orgy of genocide and cultural destruction.”
So, Who Is to ‘Blame’?
Let us pause here and consider the political significance and meaning of this essentializing, ahistoric and stereotyping argument in today’s world, or even when this article was published for the first time in 1998.
The evidence of history does not support Hartmann’s argument, but rather seems to indicate that the culture of warfare and weaponry began with and was spread mainly by the Indo-Europeans/Aryans. As the ancestral culture of most Europeans and European-Americans, let us now consider what arguments could be made and supported about them with the historical evidence about Indo-Europeans/Aryans, if we believed in essentializing identities, the natures of ethnic groups and the direction of history in this way.
Rather than fall into the same game of blame of a specific group or their descendants for all of the death and destruction in human history, I would suggest another, more Earth-connected, Creator-centered path to facing up to such a history of death and destruction.
Human beings have spread all over the world and interbred to such a great extent that geneticists argue that everyone on Earth is at least a 20th cousin. Therefore, it is clear that the culture of violence is a global matter that should be of concern to all people. And it should be a matter regarding which all human beings are responsible for causing, for confronting and for healing.
Sacred Fire magazine issue four (“The Lost People” by Thom Hartmann)
Thom Hartmann’s Internet site:
Spirit of Life magazine:
Posted on November 2, 2007, in Uncategorized and tagged ancient, aryan, gilgamesh, hartmann, Iraq, Islam, mallory, mesopotamia, middle east, monotheism, muslim, Nahid Khan, sacred fire, saddam, spirit of change, spiritual, ur, white. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.