June 27, 2005

"Reality now is very strange."

So Iraqis are reading books.
Intellectuals and writers seem particularly disoriented in the new Iraq. Many were alive in the decades before 1968, when the Baath Party took control, which was a time of cultural renaissance in Iraq. But in 1979, when Mr. Hussein became president, he began banning books, singling out writers and intellectuals, jailing them and blocking publication of their work.

The employees of the Dar al-Bayan bookstore used a small crawl space in an attic area to hide favorite books that were banned. Some writers left the country, but many stayed, surviving by meeting secretly and circulating photocopies of banned books....

As far as reading about the ousted government itself, the period is still too raw for most. However, Mr. Khakhani said a book by Mr. Hussein's former doctor, Ala Bashir, called "In the Name of Terror," had been selling well.

Some abandon modern history and escape to ancient times. Suha Turaihi, an intellectual in Baghdad, said she was reading a book about Sabians, an ancient religion of Mesopotamia that dates to hundreds of years before Christ and still exists....

Young Iraqis are making different choices. At a bookstore in Mustansiriyah University, a large public university here, students flipped through romance novels and books on astrology.

Religious books, mostly on Shiite themes, which were banned under Mr. Hussein but have streamed into Iraq since his fall, were also in abundant supply.

Though college students remain relatively secular, said Zaid Hadithy, the shop owner, young people in the broader population "are going in a religious direction" as they search for a structure for their lives in an environment where the rules have fallen away....

[Mufeed] Jazaery [who was culture minister in the recent interim government] said he worried about the power of religion among young Iraqis. Anyone who was born after 1980 grew up during Iraq's decline into war and economic sanctions. Corruption and poverty have eroded the once-strong educational system, leaving young people vulnerable to populist leaders like Mr. Sadr.

"They can read, they can write, but they can't understand," Mr. Jazaery said. "That's good for dictatorship and dangerous for democracy. It's a spare army for all hard-line elements."


Veeshir said...

I have read that relatively very few books are translated into Arabic. That would be a nice statistic to change.

goesh said...

- they may not be capable of much more than patriarchy and tribalism, only time will tell, but with the world's 3rd largest supply of oil under their sand, representative government is worth a shot, no pun intended. It does not bode well for our long term geo-political/economic interests if Iran and Iraq have a strong alliance built on Shi'ite world views. That much is certain, and the new 'boss' in Iran will soon be capable of more then just rattling a sabre. Let's hope the reading lists rapidly expand.

Kathleen B. said...

If anyone wants an truly amazing book about the power and beauty of literature in fostering and sustaining a democracy, I could not recommend more highly Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi.

Ann Althouse said...

Kathleen: Yes, excellent book. Big bestseller too.

gs said...

Noncollegiate youth is 'going in a religious direction'?

Uh oh. Any religious direction in particular?

Not that I'm surprised. I've always worried that removing Saddam would make Iraq fertile soil for Islamism. I could not support Gore or Kerry, but my confidence in our grand strategy was sharply and permanently lowered the moment I saw flight-suited Bush strutting on the aircraft carrier.

If we're trying to democratize the Mideast, surely a good place to start would have been a country which is disenchanted both with secular despotism and with theocracy?

In 2004 my presidential vote would have gone to a Democrat who was credible on national security, and I feel the same way about 2008.

ploopusgirl said...

Uh oh, gs! And the problem with Islam is what exactly? I know you're not generalizing an entire religion based on the -albeit horrific- actions of extremist representatives of the religion.

If any of you would actually take the time to study Islam, you would realize that it is a very peaceful faith, and not much different from your alleged ideal of Christianity.

I'm sure you're right though. There have never been any Christian extremists who terrorize, kill or torture people based on their nation of origin or faith, or skin color.

Perhaps it's the actions of Christian extremists that prompted Islamic extremists to take action themselves.

Why should they be accountable though? Blame Islam.