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How would you like Iraqi culture to change?

Pretty much everyone I speak to about this feels that there one thing or another about Iraqi culture that could do with change. However, specifics tend to be sparse. There are a number of possible reasons for this – it’s not always the time and place to discuss potentially sensitive issues (the adage about not talking politics or religion at the dinner table is a good one, IMO), or perhaps people don’t want the de facto commitment to a certain view that they may later change their mind about.

In no particular order:

Attitude toward mathematics and science. People seem to only want to study these subjects with a view of getting a job, rather than for the sake of the beauty and profundity of these fields of knowledge. Iraq scientists and mathematicians are few in number, and to me this reflects very negatively on Iraqi culture. A people who don’t espouse these fields can only belong to the past. There are also more concrete consequences; maths and science are arguably the fundamental generators of wealth, health and security in the modern world. We desperately need expertise in these areas to rebuild Iraq, enrich its people and defend it against internal threats and scientifically advanced foreign threats.

Fatalism. That and superstition more generally, however fatalism is so frustrating it deserves its own mention. Fatalism pervades the Iraqi mindset on everything from marriage (“qisma uw naseeb”) to sitting an exam to buying a house to…pretty much everything. We often resign ourselves to the cruel hand of fate and the metaphysical machinations of predeterminism. Fatalism gives both false hope and false despair, and is a transparent mask for apathy. Fate does not exist except as a metaphor- there is no such thing as fate, only a sea of unpredictability that we must navigate through and other sea-farers.

Gender inequality. This is an enormous subject and one that can only be touched upon here. My personal view is that despite some unnecessary double standards and excessive, irrational restrictions from overly-protective and over-bearing fathers, there are actually a lot of good things in the way Iraqi females are brought up in the UK. They actually seem more successful than males, from what I’m seeing, and just as confident and ambitious. However, there could be a survivorship bias of sorts lurking here, due to only seeing the ones that have been allowed to be seen. In addition, things in Iraq seem rather different…in a bad way. Ultimately, however, whether here or elsewhere, we still seem to confine women to a narrow band of acceptability in how they live their lives. Both genders need to be active in promoting the rights of women, especially in Iraq. We need more women taking up leadership roles, or professions that are traditionally viewed as the preserve of men (anything involving the hard sciences, for example, related to the first point). I doubt there is any country or culture in the world that can claim to have struck the perfect gender balance, and I certainly would not suggest we aim to emulate the West in its entirety, but increased liberalism and a visible feminist movement need to be seeded and nurtured.

Dissent, free(er) speech. We are loath to dissent from certain views. We don’t talk about issues that don’t sit with comfortably with our conservative family-oriented culture. We need avenues for dissent, and for dissent to be seen as legitimate and even good in the long run – because it is. That’s not to say conservatism and family-oriented culture is a bad thing, on the contrary, much good comes from it and the West could learn a thing or two from us (yes, it goes both ways), but it can’t be allowed to close off and marginalise discourse.

Much more can be said, but it would be most interesting to know your thoughts.

12 Comments on “How would you like Iraqi culture to change?”

  1. JAbass June 27, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    I think we need to be careful when we say culture. The issues you’re describing are traditions. Culture encompasses things like languages, art, food, literature and music. Iraqi culture is rich, vibrant and not in need of change.

  2. Mohammed Abdullah June 27, 2011 at 9:29 pm #

    Tradition is part of culture, but however you want to label it, what would you change?

  3. JAbass June 28, 2011 at 11:48 am #

    There’s a lot that could be changed. The double standards in regard to genders that some people seem to practice is one I’d love to change. However, I do believe our generations, being brought up in a more open minded society, are changing these traditions and ideas. The older generations had their time, the world is ours now and I doubt these traditions will last forever.

  4. Dina Jaf June 30, 2011 at 5:55 pm #

    I think its necessary to change the ideology of Iraqi tribes. This also relates to our restricted traditions.

  5. gilgamesh X / exile - iraqi June 30, 2011 at 7:13 pm #

    First of all, there should be a sense of Iraqi patriotism – we all drink the same water from the same rivers and should feel this bond. We are all one tribe – the Iraqi tribe.

    Second, Iraqis should start not to be ashamed of being Iraqis. Instead of looking for help outwards, we should rather rely on ourselves – that would be a good point to leave aside fatalism, or what Nitsche called “slave morale”.

    Third, Iraqis must be nurtured with a deep sense of humanism – law started in Iraq with Hammurabi and human rights are as important as the Alphabet.

    Fourth, Iraqis should feel a deep bond with ancient Iraq. I do not why but I think that would fit to us very much. Their way of learning of studying can be a model for us.

    Fifth, free speech and free religion is important because otherwise people will be crippled, they pretend to be something, they don’t are. And Iraq is the cradle of so many religions and sects – this is an obligation for us.

    About gender equality, well I do not mind but we shouldn’t import the sersery ways people behave here in Europe. I do not want emos because parents get seperated and hate each other for the rest of their lives while their kids are suffering. And I do not want a divorce because a wife can’t stand her husband because he’s a vegetarian. Based on equality and respect for each other – feminism shouldn’t the ideology that asks for everything and gives nothing.

    And about Fatalism, we do not have to be so hard with fellow Iraqis. For thousand of years events happened to us we could not control. We were slaves of our and other’s behaviours. Who wouldn’t turn to Fatalism ? Go check the article in wikipedia about Manichaeism – no surprise it came from Iraq !!!

  6. Shkara July 1, 2011 at 9:51 am #

    Not just the sciences, but how about the arts? These are some of the fundamental elements that define and nurture a culture and give it depth. I would love to see people play a bigger role in the arts in the Iraqisphere, but it’s very difficult to stand firmly against the wave of economic forces and pressures and expect to survive, hence why people often choose to specialise in subjects they may not necessarily love but think will help them economically/financially in the future. If we want these disciplines to be revived in Iraq, then they need the backing firstly from the strongest and probably most influential body – the government.

    A change I would like to see is a more community-based spirit among Iraqis. I don’t know what the attitude is like in Iraq, but here in Britain Iraqis love to label each other e.g. based on what centres they attend, or whether an Iraqi girl wears the headscarf or not. And since each centre has been given its own identity with people for and against them, it creates even more barriers. What is this easy inclination to labelling and judging?

    And we need to change our attitudes towards the youth. Just because an Iraqi teenager may not conform to typical customs (e.g. he may walk and talk in a certain way) does not mean we reject him/her from our community. By rejecting them they are more inclined to turn to other groups who are more accepting of them, and this often includes gangs which leads more often than not to trouble. This is a real problem that few community leaders are addressing.

    @ gilgamesh X / exile – iraqi

    I think Iraqis don’t have that deep bond with ancient Mesopotamia because it’s difficult for them to relate to it. Most of Iraq’s current legacy comes down to influences from the rise of Islam and afterwards, and as far as I understand anthropologists will agree that ancient Mesopotamia’s impact on modern Iraq is near non-existent. So as admirable a fact it may be that within the land of Iraq was the ‘cradle of civilisation’, all that is ‘Iraqi’ doesn’t appear to have anything to do with that time.

  7. gilgamesh X / exile - iraqi July 3, 2011 at 9:48 am #

    because it’s difficult for them to relate to it. Most of Iraq’s current legacy comes down to influences from the rise of Islam and afterwards, and as far as I understand anthropologists will agree that ancient Mesopotamia’s impact on modern Iraq is near non-existent.

    Sure ?

    Well, we do not have to go to Babel, but it would be enough to go to the times directly prior to Islam.

    and what anthropologists talk about this ? I remember Ali Wardi speaking about all the ancient peoples disappearing in Iraq and finding themselves in the common populace of Iraq.

    Go check up wikiraqi for my comments on some iraqi words coming from Aramaic and so on.

    Go check up also the Mellammu project from Finland talking about the influences of Babel far reaching into Islam.

  8. Mohammed Abdullah July 3, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

    @Dina Indeed. The good thing is that I don’t see much of a legacy of tribalism in British Iraqis. But Iraqis are divided more broadly into three major “tribes”: Kurds, Sunnis and Shia, and this has indeed carried through. These divisions are much older and firmly ingrained than the modern state of Iraq, and don’t look like they’re about to change any times soon. So the question is, is there even any point in Iraq? If Iraqi Kurds have a stronger “tribal bond” with non-Iraqi Kurds, and Iraqi Sunnis have stronger “tribal bond” with non-Iraqi Sunnis and Iraqi Shia have a stronger “tribal bond” with non-Iraqi Shia (Arabs, at least), then what keeps us together apart from the legacy of 20th century Western Imperialists? Can a 20th century national identity dominate ancient ethno-religious bonds in steering the future of the country? IMO, it’s plausible but not likely.

    @Gilgamesh. Promoting patriotism is a problem when when you have regions divided along ethno-sectarian lines no? Kurdistan is a country unto itself, and now the likes of Nujaifi suggests the Sunnis could go their own way (or rather, the Saudi way…). Sounds like too much of a tall order. And with regards to the ancient Iraqis, I don’t see much of a concrete connection between us and them. Arabic, Kurdish and religious facets to our identities are the overwhelmingly dominant ones. Those great and ancient people’s are long dead, and the sad thing is, our anti-intellectual culture does not even see fit to learn about them. We need westerns scientists and archaeologists to tell us about them (presuming we’re even bothering to listen).

  9. gilgamesh X / exile - iraqi July 3, 2011 at 7:26 pm #

    Well just history can explain to us why there are Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites, how those people formed themselves and developed and to make a full stop at the time of Islamic invasion is a bit ridicule – the Muslim invaders didn’t invade an empty country.

    If we could understand divisions as results of historical developments that would diminish a lot of fever in these divisions. It’s about us to emphasize common things rather divisions.

    We should influence insted of getting influenced. And my point about the ancient Iraqis العراقين القدماء is to show that they are within in us. Our current culture is not an imported one , but the result of Iraqi history starting with Sumer. Of course, as long as Iraqi intellectuals don’t have a cultural programme for their homeboys (instead of referring to Arab nationalism) that would be in vain. This would be also a pot to take out things culturally. And I can not see your point that Iraqis dislike their antique roots, in my personal life handling with Iraqis I know, and I am Iraqi, too !, I can’t share this point. quite the opposite: baab (door) is Akkadian, wow.

    And digging out our history would also give a lot of work for the common people and attract tourists, why people go to Egypt instead of Iraq ?

    Well a lot must be said, it is a Herculanian task for generations of Iraqis to come . . .

  10. gilgamesh X / exile - iraqi July 3, 2011 at 7:31 pm #

    Everytime I hear al-Anbar is Sunni, I start to laugh. al-Anbar is a persian name for wheat silo. In pre-Islamic times the Persians named this region that. Same goes to Fallujah, home to famous Jewish city, Pallgutha (check wikipedia about this). Times change, names change, but we still stay the same – inhabitants of Iraq.

  11. You are exactly right about the gender issue. Here in the US it is exactly the same situation. The females with parents who are slightly more progressive, but not to the point to completely emulating western views of gender equality, are far more successful than most males.

    There is also room for improvement and there is a big need to get some of these practices into Iraq, which seems to be regressing when it comes to women’s rights.

    • Mohammed Abdullah August 19, 2011 at 10:51 pm #

      Thanks for your comment. It does, unfortunately, seem that Iraq has regressed significantly on the front of women’s rights and gender equality. This regression seems to have started in the 1980s during the war, and was only made worse by by subsequent wars, sanctions and post-2003 extremism and civil strife.

      I think that West-based Iraqis (of both sexes) need to increase the momentum in the right direction.

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