Originally years ago, all I wanted to do was write books. My design changed one day in the mid-1990s when I realized the extent of stereotyping that exists in the West regarding the Middle East in general and the women of that region in particular.
I was on transit at Heathrow Airport, on my way home to Michigan after a trip to Europe, when I entered a bookstore and saw a rack of novels about Middle Eastern women written by Western authors. Each front cover showed a veiled woman in distress and on the back, a synopsis told of her attempts to flee from an abusive husband, father or brother. I was disturbed that that was the only type of lifestyle displayed for the public.
I was born in Baghdad as a minority Christian and came to the United States at age ten. As a child, I didn’t know that my religion was much different from my Muslim friends. Not until my family and I arrived to America did I begin to learn about my Chaldean ancestors. Chaldeans are Neo-Babylonians who still speak Aramaic. They trace their roots to Prophet Abraham as he was from Ur, land of the Chaldees. For thousands of years, they have contributed a great deal to the birth of civilization. It is where writing and many other inventions started. Enheduanna, a princess and priestess from ancient Iraq, was the first writer in recorded history.
When I returned to America, I searched for books, articles and movies that depicted stories with either influential or simply everyday Middle Easterners, stories that portrayed the healthier or more realistic part of the Arab world. There were hardly any out there, especially not when it came to the women. From that point on I was determined to write nothing but true life stories and reports of the people and culture from that region.
Then in August of 2014, the Islamic State attacked the Christian villages of Iraq, the birthplace of my parents and grandparents. Christian Iraqis in the United States were outraged. They helplessly watched family, friends and relatives being forced out of their homes in the most inhumane way possible. Innocent people were kidnapped for ransom, or killed, and others were threatened to convert or die. Women and girls were captured, like slaves, and those who survived had nothing to their name but their identification cards. They left their homes and all their belongings and became refugees.
The leaders in our community immediately reached out to political figures in Washington to help the minorities during this dire situation. As ISIS destroyed historical sites and artifacts, artists took up their brush and rebuilt these monuments on canvas, more determined than ever to bring their history back to life. Myself, I picked up the pen and I wrote and wrote and wrote.
Aside from wanting to give our community a voice, I truly wanted to preserve our stories. We have magnificent stories that are unheard and these stories are not necessarily about war, religion, or politics. They are about love, culture, courage, and triumph.
As I began to dig up these stories, I soon realized that while “his story” proudly credits ancient Mesopotamia for the invention of writing, often mentioning the epic of Gilgamesh, the laws of Hammurabi, and the various kings of that region, it says nothing of Enheduanna, the first writer in recorded history. She is dubbed the “Shakespeare of Sumerian literature” and had a considerable political and religious role in Ur. She was the daughter of the great Mesopotamian king Sargon of Akkad and the high priestess of the temple of Nanna, the Akkadian moon god, in the center of her father’s empire, the city-state of Ur. After her father’s death, the new ruler removed her from her position as high-priestess.
Enheduanna wrote and taught about three centuries before the earliest Sankrit texts, 2000 years before Aristotle, and 1,700 before Confucius. She wrote during the rise of the agricultural civilization, when gathering territory and wealth, warfare, and patriarchy were making their marks. She offers a first-person perspective on the last times women in Western society held religious and civil power. After her father’s death, the new ruler of Ur removed her from her position as high priestess.
Enheduanna lived at a time of rising patriarchy. It has been written that, as secular males acquired more power, religious beliefs had evolved from what was probably a central female deity in Neolithic times to a central male deity by the Bronze Age. Female power and freedom sharply diminished during the Assyrian era, the period in which the first evidence of laws requiring the public veiling of elite women was made.
Another woman never mentioned is Queen Kubaba, the only queen of the Sumerian Kings list. She reigned peacefully for nearly a hundred years and was honored as goddess after her reign. Later, however, Mesopotamians decided it was unnatural for a woman to uphold traditional men’s roles and provided this omen to make sure no other woman dares to so improperly cross that line again: “If an androgyny is born, with both rod and vagina – omen of Kubaba, who ruled the country. The country of the king shall be ruined.”
Ironically, the country of “the king” was ruined because of her absence. The thirst to wipe away the feminine energy, “her story”, in the Middle East has succeeded, causing that region to become so imbalanced that, no matter how much U.S. and international intervention, it seems unable to heal.
Yet I believe what the Dalai Lama once said, that “the Western women will save the world.” Yes, she will bring her story back to life.