The Role of the Intellectual in Shaping the New Iraq

By Jamal Heidar in London (ICR No. 15, 17-April-03)

The Role of the Intellectual in Shaping the New Iraq

By Jamal Heidar in London (ICR No. 15, 17-April-03)

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005

Under Saddam Hussein, all media and cultural bodies turned into trumpets for state propaganda, hypocritically praising the regime and providing it with justifications for pursing its sanguinary programme of destroying everything that was not in complete agreement with it.

The regime saw its rights through the mirror of the delusions and the slogans that it itself created.

It created a deep-rooted sectarianism and strong religious divisions. The culture of the state lacked the simplest ingredients of true patriotism and encouraged immoral behaviour and customs never seen in Iraq’s long history.

It was a culture that served only the regime. In the new era Iraq is now embarking upon, this state culture will be discarded as others search for a new intellectual product to “market”.

There is no purpose in revisiting here the disasters caused by Saddam Hussein’s regime - the foolish wars that reaped nothing but death and destruction, the threats posed to the safety and the security of the region, the wasting of Iraq’s natural wealth, the degradation and the crushing of the Iraqi spirit in a prison whose impregnable walls were built over more than three decades.

What is pertinent today is the limitless damage the regime visited upon Iraqi culture – and the legacy of that damage with which Iraqi intellectuals now have to wrestle.

Alongside the false culture of the Iraqi state, an alternative, opposition culture grew up in exile. But true creativity, a creativity with genuine roots, develops according to its own slow rhythm. It has nothing to do with a culture that springs from a passing shock to the system and that is looking for a quick fix. Culture is the product of thought. It needs a free environment in which to develop its creativity.

Caught between these two cultures – the culture of the state and the culture of the opposition – the Iraqi intellectual knows instinctively where to position himself. He does not conceive of history as a sharp struggle between two approaches, but rather provides an alternative to the struggle between two essentially political approaches. He demands that Iraqi opposition groups now be transparent about their agendas and sources of finance; that they declare how they spend the money they receive.

But while intellectuals may not agree with the aims, views and political alliances of these opposition groups - while the gap between them is actually widening - both are seeking to lay strong foundations for justice and freedom in Iraq and to guarantee the principles of democracy and human rights. Both are struggling to give the new Iraq a little piece of bread dipped in dignity.

Today Iraqi intellectuals have a chance to influence Iraq’s political path, to embrace a political programme and frame it in the service of a new democratic project. The new politicians, for their part, must throw off their egotism and the narrowness of their cultural horizons. But will the Iraqi opposition, whatever that means, accept the truth that intellectuals are deserting them, unconvinced by their temporary, casual attempts to collect us under their umbrella and to draw us into their circle of influence?

The task ahead is more complicated than the efforts that have been made to date suggest: opposition parties and forces must expand their cultural awareness to defeat the perverted culture of the regime and activate a true culture based on true patriotism.

After all that has befallen Iraq – its people, its land and its civilisation – we must storm the barriers of cultural degeneration and seek the values of justice, freedom and reason. These values can only be reborn, and be suffused with new originality, away from stagnant ideologies, totalitarianism and ready-made political commandments.

Jamal Heidar is an Iraqi writer and a former editor of Baghdad newspaper.

Iraqi Kurdistan, Iraq
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