No matter how I try to ignore Iraqi politics and its absurdity, its hypocritical and constantly disappointing nature (as explained by Hayder Al-Khoie’s post) manages to infuriate me every now and then. To escape from it or seek distraction, I take refuge in culture (or what’s left of it!) trying to follow on the recent Iraqi art exhibitions, new books and performances, new films, etc. Now, there is no refuge and things can’t be ignored as Iraqi cultural life takes another blow motivated by selfish political conflicts, irresponsibility and sheer ignorance. Needless to say that these motivations explain every wrong turn Iraq took for the last 7 years, but what it worse is the context through which actions are justified to the public. In this case, as in many, it is religion.
Babylon Festival in Hilla city was scheduled to start last Saturday with a programme packed with several international participants to feature in musical events, folklore dancing, theatre, visual arts and poetry evenings. Its preparations took several months as part of celebrating Babel (Hilla) as Iraqi capital of culture for 2010; an initiative organised and sponsored by the Iraqi Ministry of Culture. European and Arabic groups travelled to Babylon to take part in the festival, in addition to local groups from different Iraqi cities. To their surprise, 24 hours before the start of the festival many banners were put in the street condemning the festival as “blasphemy” and the organisers as “libertines”. The provincial council of Babylon prohibited any musical or dancing events, therefore none of the groups were allowed to perform. Only poetry readings and art exhibitions were running amidst confusion and frustration of the performers and the audience.
The organiser (who is a member of the provincial council) was surprised for the sudden decision by the Mayor of Babel. Banners were put up by religious groups (allegedly linked to the Mayor) on the notion that the festival coincides with the commemoration of the death of Imam Al-Sadiq (AS), and the Mayor claims that he didn’t see the programme of possibly the most important event in the whole city of Hilla until 24 hours before. Between flan and filtan, the festival was ruined, money spent on sponsoring the international participants was wasted, embarrassment and frustration underlined the mood of everyone. So why did this happen?
It didn’t take long to find articles on political tensions between the organiser (who is from a secular political group) and the Mayor (who is from a religious political group), and that the tensions were linked to accusations of corruption and requests to question the Mayor. In addition to that, it does not make any sense how an international festival to be organised in a small city and the timing of the festival didn’t merit discussions earlier!
So, it’s just one of these political games like those played by the big players, but on a smaller scale. It’s a collateral damage where everything in Iraq is expendable, whether it be history, culture, economy, services, security, anything, as long as it looks good on the politicians’ score board and keeps them in their position in the name of religion, or else. All good efforts will always be wasted, and a prosperous Iraq will remain for a long time just an idea in our dreamy nostalgic heads, a group we join on Facebook at the very best.
Next time, we’ll discuss artistic militias as a countermeasure on the long-term prospect.