TCS Daily

Name Change

By Sidney Goldberg - October 24, 2002 12:00 AM

"Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin." Donald Rumsfeld couldn't have said it better. Certainly not more concisely. These four undecipherable words were the Writing on the Wall, and foretold the epochal regime change that ended the Babylonian empire, whose core is what today is Iraq.

The four words were inscribed by the disembodied hand of God during Balthazar's Feast at his palace in Babylon, the grandest city in the world and 50 miles south of modern Baghdad, in 539 B.C. King Balthazar, son of Nebuchadnezzar, called on his soothsayers to translate the words, but none of them even knew which language they were from. (Scholars today trace them to Aramaic.) The soothsayers told Balthazar that he ought to ask Daniel, the Jewish prophet who could read the mind of God. Daniel was among the many thousands of Israelites who for two centuries lived in Babylonia during the "Babylonian Captivity." It was not an oppressive captivity, certainly not a cruel one, and the Babylonian Talmud and other great works of Jewish exegesis were written there. When the Israelites were allowed to return home, many of them chose to remain in Babylonia.

Daniel was brought to the banquet and Balthazar offered to make him his viceroy if he would tell him the meaning of the four words. Daniel turned down the job offer but said he would translate the words for free, which he did: "God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it; thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting. Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and the Persians." With very little tweaking, the message could be applied to Saddam Hussein and Iraq.

Daniel's prophecy came to pass immediately. A Persian army already had overwhelmed the Babylonian outer defenses, Balthazar was slain that same evening, and the empire was divided between the Medes and Persians.

Balthazar was not so much an evil man but a high liver, a hedonist and vainglorious. He thought he had it all, but his legacy was little more than an oversized wine bottle (about 13 quarts) that was named after him. Saddam, on the other hand, is a malevolent tyrant who enjoys watching videos of his enemies being tortured. His legacy for Iraq is death, cruelty, hunger, betrayal. For years to come, with or without a regime change, the very name, "Iraq," will summon up ugly, negative associations - anthrax, poison gas, nuclear bombs, genocide. If Iraq were a woman, it would be time for a complete re-do.

Which brings up the name of the country. With a regime change should come a name change, and what more natural designation for this land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers than its original name, Babylonia? It would be like giving a liberated convict a shine, shave, and a new suit, the accoutrements of a new and better life. And who deserves a new chance more than the millions who suffered under Saddam? What a transformation, from the harsh, provocative, grating "Iraq" to the languorous, exotic "Babylonia," a name that on any poster would beckon tourists. And the new name would summon the glories of one of the two greatest civilizations of the ancient world. It would help the Iraqis, benefiting from the regime change, to feel reborn, putting the recent past
behind them.

Consider this: Some 3,500 years ago, Hammurabi issued his Code - 282 laws concerning everything from retribution for personal injury (the "eye for an eye" part) to promissory notes to mortgage procedures. Although today the "eye for an eye" retribution seems barbaric, remember that before Hammurabi's Code it could be two eyes for a nose, or a head for an arm.

Then there were the ziggurats, the terraced pyramids, the most famous of which was the Tower of Babel, from which Babylon derived its name. And the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, watered - as were other parts of Babylonia - by a sophisticated network of pipes and canals.

Above all, there was the invention of writing, the cuneiform inscriptions that have come down to us in thousands of commercial transactions, letters, and works of literature. Babylonia introduced the first libraries, and its great epic, "Gilgamesh," stands with the Iliad and the Nordic sagas as one of the bridges from legend to history.

Corporations know the importance of a name. The name "Coca Cola" is perhaps the most valuable asset of the Coca-Cola company, more valuable than the secret formula for the drink's syrup. Exxon spent many millions of dollars to change its name and entrench its trademark throughout the world. Indeed, countries have done so many times - Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Iran.

And with a regime change and a name change in Iraq, what better time than now for Iran to make an equally advantageous transformation, reverting to its traditional and more mellifluous name, Persia. It would correct several inconsistencies in nomenclature. Who wants an Iranian cat, an Iranian rug, or an Iranian lamb coat? But a Persian one? Of course. (And if the super-glamorous Persian Room ever re-opens at The Plaza, you can bet they won't call it The Iranian Room.)

Sidney Goldberg is a New York media consultant who for many years was Senior Vice President of United Media for Syndication. United Media syndicates and licenses Peanuts, Dilbert, and many other graphic and text properties.

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