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Logan Hughes
Logan Hughes

Rivers Of Babylon


By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion ... They carried us away in captivity requiring of us a song ... Now how shall we sing the LORD's song in a strange land?




Rivers Of Babylon


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In the Rastafarian faith, the term "Babylon" is used for any governmental system which is either oppressive or unjust. Rastafarians also use "Babylon" to refer to the police, often seen as a source of oppression because they arrest members for the use of marijuana (which is sacramental for Rastafarians). Therefore, "By the rivers of Babylon" refers to living in a repressive society and the longing for freedom, just like the Israelites in captivity. Rastafarians also identify themselves as belonging to the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The original version specifically refers to Rastafarian belief in Haile Selassie, by changing references to "the Lord" in the Biblical text to "Far-I" and "King Alpha". Both terms refer to Selassie (Selassie's wife Menen Asfaw is known as Queen Omega).[3] In addition, the term "the wicked" replaces the neutral "they" of Psalm 137 in the line "they that carried us away captive required of us a song...".[4] According to David Stowe,


What happens to us has everything to do with who we are, to each other, with how we pick up the pieces of our brokenness and hang onto each other, with the responsibility written first in the flesh and the face of the Other. The veneer of civilization is as thin as the blood the high priest spills on the alter, as easily blown away as the ashes of his sons, as self-destructive as a society eaten alive by idolatry, by racism, by greed. Careful, we go, or we will sit on the shores of the rivers of Babylon, and weep to remember Zion.


Between 1975 and 1991, on three occasions, Syria and Iraq threatened Turkey with military action (and at one point threatened each other) over reduced river flows due to dams in Turkey. Negotiations stopped and started as relations between the nations fluctuated. Since then, climate change and population growth have put extreme pressure on regional freshwater, heightening the impact of the damming of the two rivers.


There is hope for resolving the water conflict between Turkey and Iraq and Syria. Previous negotiations offer some lessons. Jordan and Israel, for one, have been in secret (and now public) negotiations over the Jordan and Yarmuk rivers since the 1950s. These talks have been relatively successful for three reasons.


The history of "Rivers Of Babylon" begins way back, centuries beforepop charts. The lyric is based on the Biblical Psalm 137:1-4, a hymnexpressing the yearnings of the Jewish people in exile following theBabylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BC. Previously the Kingdom ofIsrael, after being united under Kings David and Solomon, was split intwo, with the Kingdom of Israel in the north being conquered by theAssyrians in 722 BC. This caused the dispersion of 11 of the 12 tribesof Israel. The southern Kingdom of Judah, home of the tribe of Judahand part of the Tribe of Levi, was free from foreign domination untilthe Babylonian conquest to which "Rivers Of Babylon" refers. Theunknown psalmist pondered, "By the rivers of Babylon we sat and weptwhen we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, forthere our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs ofjoy; they said, 'Sing us one of the songs of Zion!' How can we singthe songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?"


In the Rastafarian faith, the term "Babylon" is used for anygovernmental system which is either oppressive or unjust. In Jamaica,Rastafarians also use "Babylon" to refer to the police, often seen asa source of oppression because they arrest members for the use ofmarijuana (which is sacramental for Rastafarians). Therefore, "By therivers of Babylon", according to Rastafarians' imaginativeinterpretation, refers to living in a repressive society and thelonging for freedom, just like the Israelites in captivity.Rastafarians also identify themselves as belonging to the TwelveTribes of Israel.


The problem of what to remember, what to forgive and how to achieve justice has never been more vexing. By the original rivers of Babylon, now war-torn regions of Iraq and Syria devastated by the Islamic State, stories emerge of captives taking refuge in the river. The forced migration of millions of people from the region, mainly from Syria, is having worldwide consequences. These include helping the rise of anti-immigration populism across Europe and in the United States.


Those who sat and wept by the rivers of Babylon were expressing the Jewish link with Zion: the fundamental link that the Palestinian festival organisers want to suppress because of their competing claims to it. Each and every debate about Israel and Zionism risks exactly this kind of denial of Jewish history. 041b061a72


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