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.