Some would say that we are living in interesting times, particularly as another US-Iraq confrontation at this stage seems almost inevitable. Such is the present power of the United States that only a few voices in the rest of the world suggest that the United Nations should be the only party to be involved in any future decisions about the coming conflict. Nobody in the West is brave enough any longer to take a moral stance against the imposed economic sanctions, which by now have killed more than 1.6 million Iraqis, mostly children, according to the UN’s own statistics.
On the eve of the Eid-Al-Fiter (the most widely observed Islamic festival marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan), the well-respected Qatar-based Arabic news network Aljazeera reported that in the past three months (from September to November 2001), more than 31 thousand Iraqis (including 21 thousand children under the age of 5) died due to the UN-imposed economic sanctions against Iraq, a figure even higher than the 1999 UNICEF estimate of an average 5200 Iraqi child deaths per month. This comes at the same time as warnings from Iraqi physicians about an escalating crisis of increased cancer cases in the southern part of the country. The report adds that the fear of having babies with birth defects is so great that many pregnant women choose to have abortions. I myself must accept some blame for not reorting this, having recently turning down an opportunity to visit the suffering patients in the hospitals in Baghdad in the interests of personal safety.
So what brought us to the point of the precipice, this point where two belligerent nations want to draw swords against each other in the region once known as the cradle of civilisation. This was the land of the Sumerians, the Assyrians, and the Babylonians where advanced civilizations flourished long before that of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. This Garden of Eden, this land of Abraham, where the Hanging Gardens on the River Euphrates were once considered amongst the Seven Wonders of the World and where the origins of our medicine once flourished. There is little doubt that any historian would say that the Mongol invasion of Mesopotamia was one of the turning points in the history of this region. Its long shadow and memory has left formidable imprints that are still discernible in thought formation of Iraqi political leaders right into this century. The destruction of many centuries of learning, being ruled for a period by barbarians, Ottoman Turks and later the British has left a lasting stamp cytotec Santa Cruz on these proud people who want to protect their recently found freedom.
I would like to take time for a moment to consider life in this part of the world before the sack of Baghdad by the Mongols. I would like to identify the influence of the Baghdad School of Medicine on the medicine we practise today in the Western world. This influence has been neglected and unjustifiably overpassed by scholars in the West and this article is written to allow us for a while to acknowledge that fact and try and restore this missing part of our history. We must remember that medicine, as we know it today did not develop overnight and this knowledge over the centuries has been handed from one country to the other. Between the ancient civilizations of Egyptians, Greek, Roman, and the Renaissance era in Europe, there was a gap, commonly called “the dark ages”, during which the flames of the knowledge of medicine was hosted, not by the West, but by the Arabs or Moslems.
The nomenclature, “the dark ages” reflects the civilization in Europe between the 7th and 13th centuries, but by no means it expresses the state of affairs in the Arab world or the Islamic Empire at that time. By the ninth century, Islamic medical practice began to advance beyond the talisman and the people of Mesopotamia became avid for the wisdom of Galen, Hippocrates, and Paul of Aegina. By the tenth century, their zeal and enthusiasm for learning resulted in all essential Greek medical writings being translated into Arabic in Baghdad. The Islamic Empire continued to grow and extended its influence from the Atlantic Ocean on the West to the borders of China on the East. Arabic became the International Language of learning and diplomacy and the centre of medical knowledge and activity shifted eastward as Baghdad emerged as the capital of the scientific world.