Monday, October 25, 2004

Hell and Paradise.

I received an invitation from the “Iraq cultural house” to attend a lecture about art and community.
This association includes a special group of Iraqi artists; poets, critics and actors who were denied the opportunity to get their voices to the public during the dark age of Saddam and now they’re trying to find a place for them among the lines to build our new Iraq.

They came carrying their worries and dreams and a wild desire to renew and improve the public awareness. They are so willing to create and add something new to the community and they didn’t let their poverty and lack of resources be an obstacle in their way, even that some of them came walking on foot from distant places just to not miss the chance for meeting and exchanging ideas.

The lecture was about the Iraqi folkloric poetry and the guest of honor was an Iraqi poet who had to remain silent and hide what he writes in Saddam’s days.
His papers were locked up in a secret place that even his family didn’t know about, and yesterday was the time for those papers to see the light, to share with everybody the stories that was hidden inside his heart before the 9th. Of April.

Poems and conversations went on like a stream, mixing art with politics until the organizer asked the audience to overlook the differences in opinions and focus on the main topic of the meeting which was discussing a special kind of folkloric poetry and here one of the audience cried out:

“to hell with art if it didn’t tell our suffering. All of our poems, paintings and plays are nothing but a documentation and a description for our pains and love for freedom. We won’t separate this from that; it’s all for the sake of Iraq. We were showing our works on the sidewalks and we faced prison far our words while the regime’s pets were stealing all the lights and attention. I am a folk poet but when poetry turned into a propaganda tool for Saddam, I decided not to write anything.”

The guy was very excited and somewhat angry. I asked about him and I was told that he’s a member of a group of artists who call themselves “poor without borders” and spend most of their time having discussions on the sidewalks despite that they were registered as an NGO and had an office! In the past they refused the tyrants’ offers and suffered a lot and still suffering till this moment because the cheap voices can always find their way to the arms of the authorities and can reach more easily while those poor and honest guys will always find it extremely difficult to find their deserved places.

Strangely you can find some of those who spent their lives praising the Ba’ath and now they came back in a new look, using the tone of the change while our poor friends decided to be an opposition, regardless what the government was, is or will be.

One of them suddenly jumped and shouted “Someone said in the newspapers said that who refuse to vote will burn in hell. I say, IT’S AN HONOR FOR ME TO GO TO HELL!”
Many voices of approval were heard in the hall, mainly of members of the same organization “WELCOME TO HELL. IT’S A PLEASURE TO MEET YOU THERE” “NO ONE SHALL TELL US WHAT TO DO ANYMORE” “WE ARE NOT VOTING UNTIL WE’RE SURE THAT OUR VOICES ARE GOING TO BE HEARD”
The rest of the audience tried hard to calm them “it’s ok..we’ve suffered with you” or “this is our opportunity to make a difference” or “maybe no one represents us right now but let’s look for the future. We must support election for the sake of the future of democracy”.

The majority were actually with the elections but some of them just didn’t like that someone is still claiming responsibility for them and threatening them if they disobey, regardless of the nature of the threat. The conversations left poetry and switched to politics and this is natural for any meeting here in Iraq; we start talking about something and suddenly we find ourselves talking about politics and the voices get loud and anxious.

I started shooting .pictures and I was full of joy; having such a conversation with no fear was impossible in the past and I just can’t help feel the joy every time I see it till now! Everyday I see a similar situation in a house or a university. Everyone feels responsible for Iraq’s future and everyone is looking forward for active contribution.

We’re changing so quickly and the concept of one opinion and one point of view is becoming part of history.
Who said that nothing has changed?! Who claimed that the present is worse than the past?!
I wish they could attend even one of those meetings or lectures to see the progress we’ve so far made, and let them know that these meetings and discussions are much more in number and in effect than the car bombings but unfortunately they don’t attract the same attention.

Many people describe Iraq these days as a hell, and I want to say that this 'hell' is my paradise despite all the dangers and difficulties and even losses, as these struggles make the process itself a real life, a joy that only oppressed people with dignity can sense when they become free, and I truley feel sorry for anyone who doesn't see it this way.

-By Mohammed

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