Sunday, January 12, 2014

Autumn of the Intellectual in Iraq

In one of his articles, Khalid Al-Qishtainy writes about his problem in translating the Arabic word (Muthaq'qaf مثقف) to English. He writes that he lived for years as a translator, and was able to buy his house and car from his work, yet he is unable to translate the word. Thus I am not trying here to translate that same word which confused Al-Qishtainy, and Margaret Thatcher too, but the book I am reading these days is worth noting:

The title contains that confusing word (Al-Muthaq'qaf) which I will translate here as "Intellectual". Hence the title will be "The Autumn of the Intellectual in Iraq" by Mohammed Ghazi Al-Akhras.

This is not the first book that talks about the relations of Iraqi intellectuals with politics from 1991 till 2008. Al-Akhras tried to do some interviews with intellectuals (novelists, poets, painters, academics) and to find some documents as references for his books. He describes those documents and the interviews by the following lines:

"The sailing with those documents and the deconstruction of their writers' minds were like going aboard a drunken boat sailing in a sea agitated by waves of hatred, negation, and repeal." p7

Trying to summarize what I read is difficult. The overall conclusion is that a dictatorship affects the psychological development of people, even intellectuals. I remember that we were, since childhood, being frightened from telling the truth. Lying, regarding about what we love, was regarded as a good deed. I remember as child we sing everyday in the school for the love of Ba'ath Party and Saddam Hussein. I remember telling my teacher that I want to be a football player. She told me that I should be a pilot and defend my country against the Iranians. We were at war with Iran back then. In the art classroom we were children but we get it, they want us to draw war scenes in which the Iraqi soldiers kill the Iranians.

During that period the book talks about (1991-2008) I was passing my teenage, then early adulthood years. Those years of coming-of-age. I was not aware to much of the things this book talks about. There is a poet that I liked much, which seems in the book as a Ba'athist, who repealed others, the non-Ba'athists. His name is Sami Mahdi. I liked the poems that he wrote regarding the existential searching for a meaning. Al-Akhras book sheds lights on meanings that I wasn't aware of. Political meanings. Ideological ones. I read that with pain. I felt silly.

The Glance 
By Saadi Youssef 
Our loss is not the earth
for the earth will stay,
it stayed before us,
it will stay after us,
earth of the singers,
and of silent ones,
earth of those who stay
and transients;
it is the earth of those
who became earth’s body
. . .

Another poem Al-Akhras's book talks about is named Saadi Yousef. He is a communist. I used to adore Iraqi communists. Why? Because they are not sectarian. Non religious. But I wasn't aware of how much they are ideologist. Didn't know about their crimes against those who were against them. I knew nothing about communist worldwide before 2003. After 2003 books and TV channels and the internet helped me to know some of what I missed. I heard of Ceausescu. I loved Herta Muller novels.
The word "Muthaq'qaf مثقف", translated here as "intellectuals" and can be translated also as "cultured, men of pen, educated", has the same root in Arabic language as the word "Argue مثاقفة = جدل". While much of the conversations in our cultural affairs are merely nervous arguments, we are hearing more calm voices shedding good lights to our past in that dark era. That darkness is still present. When a dictatorship ends, the darkness stays. It goes a little by little. Al-Akhras helped to put some lights, so thanks, many thanks to him. When I was watching TV that other night I saw Hanaa Edwar:

It was an interview with her in Al-Sumeria channel. She talks about her work. I liked the most her dog who kept playing with her during the interview. The TV presented was not that good in choosing her questions and the presented talked a lot. During those periods that that presented kept quite Hanaa Edwar talked and I was able to listen. She had a picture near her desk, the picture of Kamel Shiaa.

Al-Akhras book ends talking about Kamel Shiaa, that Iraqi intellectual who never wrote books, and was instead a "living walking book" as described by some. He was killed. I think he was frank, that man. What was that thing about "Organic Intellectuals"?

At the same time that I think of all these, the words from Orhan Pamuk's novel "Snow" comes to my mind:
"... in a brutal country like ours, where human life is "cheap", it's stupid to destroy yourself for the sake of your beliefs. Beliefs? High ideals? Only people in rich countries can enjoy such luxuries. " p.320

Saadi Youssef had written a tribune to the death of Kamel Shiaa. In that tribune he blamed him for going back to Iraq after living in Europe for decades of years. I don't know what to say about that. I still have the writings of all those people. Intellectuals or not. Things that I ignore about my country, my history, and my self, are more than the things that I know. Still I like to spend the life with some joy. If not joy, then let us say, comfort.

Al-Akhras ends his book with the words of Kamel Shiaa saying that Iraq reached the bottom and Iraq makes it possible to see the origins of wars, barbarism, egoism, lying, corruption, violence, the deliberate forgetting of truth, or inattention to it. While the book ends that way I remember again that poem by Saadi Youssef named "Glance" which ends by the following lines: 

"What we have lost is not the earth.
The loss is that glance we no longer exchange,
between one child and another
as they share a loaf of bread."

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