today i want to address something that continues to weigh heavily on my mind: the inherent problem of history, which is the very way it’s been told.

it has risen like an endless wave, starting from something small—a phoenician ship that washes up on a roman shore. a group of seamen know a carthaginian sail, and run quickly to tell the emperor, whose military and navy generals have long dreamt of dominating the seas. carthage’s swift sailing and silver-tongued salesmen are the only thing keeping them from controlling the gateway to the east: tyre. they quickly replicate the design and teach it to the greeks. they start to spread themselves out, and they start small, with a west sicilian port. the carthaginians may be smooth sailors, but they were never much for funding an army. their mercenaries are bought within the week. sicily is beseiged. easy. soon enough (with a broken promise here and the rise and fall of a rebel there) carthage has been gnawed away, and the romans have dominated the Mediterranean basin. they flatten out the greeks not long after the wars, but keep a respect for them, giving them mention in the grand narrative, as our teachers, our philosophers, our wisemen. unlike the phoenicians, whose hannibal had sworn to never be a friend to rome, the greeks had folded, so they let them have their ‘independence’ and their experiments—until everybody was Christian. stories were told and retold over the ages, about the punic wars, about the cunning of scipio against the great and mighty hannibal, about the great Greek and roman fleets, unmatched conquerors of the sea.

today, i googled that ship, the trireme. so famed it was for its form and innovation that the assyrians carved it onto their walls. the quick answer to my search was: an ancient greek or roman war galley with three banks of oars. this is probably as far as most will go in their search before adding the trireme to their mental collection of greek and roman innovations. one more lie to this house of cards called ‘western’ culture.

what else do they have us misknowing? what else has been added to the legacy of the great roman and greek empires that was stolen from their outsiders? egyptian and persian roads? north african concrete? how much of what we know of our world is true? why do they have us counting days instead of following the lunisolar cycles? is it easier to send us to the office this way? by teaching us to hide from the outside? by subtly conforming us to the notion that our days are numbered?

so far has this tradition been carried that the rift between east and west appears deeper than ever; that those east of byzantium seem to be a race entirely foreign from those west of it. and yet, what of this is true? what of our reality today is not a syncretic fusion of culture? even our language is not our language. even our words are borrowed from one another. if you said you were “thinking of going to the bazaar to get some coffee,” you will have dipped in and out of Arabia, Persia, Greece, and Rome in less than ten words. if you have a rug and scented candle in your home you will have created an atmosphere where modern technology meets ancient decor and meditative practice. if you’re an arab who grew up in canada and spent most of your life traveling, where are you really from? would you credit canada for making you? or did every moment in every place come together to bring you to the person you are in this moment? why have we been taught to see anything else? why have we favored to colorless binary over the mosaic?

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