Lately I was approached by an editor of Gilgamesh, an Iraqi magazine about Iraqi culture that is issued in English. We met in some cultural session in which she learned that I majored in English literature and thought she can make use of my skills and knowledge of English and literature. She asked me to write about Iraq's recent production in art and literature.
At that moment, I realized how ignorant I was in the culture of my country, and this was something not to be proud of actually. One of my friends, when I told him of her request, throwing some funny comments on the request, he reproached me emphasizing the fact that people abroad do admire Iraqi art and cultural activities and if I don't get that, then it is my own shame rather than something to be proud of.
At the beginning I was not that happy with this, for I don't feel any affinity with what is written in Iraq, or with what I have already read of that literature. However, pondering a little bit about the matter, it appeared to me that am looking at the whole thing from a personal point of view, rather than applying my professional knowledge in literature on what is produced in Iraq.
My detachment or abhorrence of Iraqi writings comes from two sources or happened for two reasons. The first one has to do with the historic period in which I grew up. I spent most of my childhood and adolescence living in a country that fools itself with extreme nationalism, waging war after another in the name of foolish patriotism only to make its people suffer all the calamities of poverty and insecurity. Since the beginning of 1980s till now, and Iraq lives continues insecurity whether on its frontiers or inside its territories; with this comes the economic crises that led people to violate all moral laws and turn our world to jungle where only the strongest live on the expense of the weak.
During all that time, almost thirty years I have heard the songs, and read the poems and writings of people who have sold their pens to the regime celebrating in foolish pride war, and the evil heroism of that regime, making the Iraqis the selected ones, god-send people (of course under the leadership of their president) to redeem the suffering of marginalized people!! Since I never believed in any cause that our politicians tried to advance on our minds, I never liked whatever produced to serve their propaganda, and that was the beginning of pushing aside Iraqi writings.
The second reason comes from my stubborn spirit that tried to rebel against all traditions that restricted our imaginations and our potentials. Most of what is produced in Iraq doesn't come to my taste, which is, I think, a subconscious resistance to have myself attached to anything related to my culture. Of course every culture has its pitfalls, negative sides and definitely no there is no culture perfect enough for all, because it is the product of mankind who is already not perfect! But my own resistance and rebellion made me blind against everything that has Iraq label on it.
However, when I was approached by that editor, when she expressed confidence in my own abilities as instructor and scholar of literature, I realized that even if I don't like what is written personally, I still need to know about it as a part of my profession; after all this is what I do when it comes to English and American literature.
With this realization, I started recently my journey back to Iraqi writings. I am already familiar with some names which I never had the urge before to read what they write, but now I feel the need to know more about them and to reconnect with my culture through their writings.
Nadia F. Mohammed