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 Babylon Festival Victim to Democracy

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Dr.Hannani Maya
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الدولة : العراق
الجنس : ذكر
عدد المساهمات : 37586
مزاجي : أحب المنتدى
تاريخ التسجيل : 21/09/2009
الابراج : الجوزاء
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مُساهمةموضوع: Babylon Festival Victim to Democracy    الأربعاء 06 أكتوبر 2010, 12:14 am

Babylon Festival Victim to Democracy





Saddam Hussein used to hold the Babylon Festival at the end of Iraq’s sweltering summers on the site of the ancient ruins of Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar, an hour’s drive south of the capital. It was agitprop, an annual expression of megalomania and, until the last one in fall 2002, with war already in the air, a forum for railing against the United States.

This year the Ministry of Culture decided to revive the festival over three days that ended on Monday. The organizers, supported by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, envisioned a celebration of a new democratic Iraq.

Instead the festival fell afoul of the religious and political schisms — and the chaos — that democracy has wrought.On the eve of its opening on Saturday, after a dozen foreign music and dance troupes had already arrived by the busload, the region’s deputy governor banned music and dance. He cited the coincidence of the birthday of the sixth imam of Islam, Jaafar ibn Muhammad al-Sadiq.

The ban scuttled much of the weekend’s program, which had been prepared months in advance, and left a dozen performers — flown in from Algeria, Azerbaijan, Denmark, Finland, Iran and Russia, among others — in the lurch, whiling away unexpected free time at the ruins of Babylon.“We rehearsed,” said Nurhan Mohammed Abdel Hamid, 20, a dancer with an Egyptian folkloric dance troupe, Pharaoh of the Nile.

The show must go on, and it did, for a bit.

A theater group from Diwaniya Province performed a play called “Globalization,” which recounted the displacement of Iraqis by war. The cultural wing of the movement of the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr staged a play called “The Devil” about the United States. (Some things never change.) There were exhibitions of photographs and paintings, a book fair and poetry readings.

Attendance was sparse, though, with reporters and performers-not-performing outnumbering the audience. The festival, promoted heavily by officials in Baghdad, was not advertised in Hilla, the provincial capital that abuts the ruins.By Monday, the festival’s climactic day, the rest of the program was simply canceled, the musicians and dancers sent back to Baghdad after lunch.

“We wanted to revive this festival in a new way, in a new Iraq,” said Ali Makzumi, an official at the Ministry of Culture who was responsible for shepherding the foreign visitors, sounding exceedingly disappointed in the result. “Babylon failed us — not the people, but the government.”The ban on music and dance appeared, at first glance, to reflect the rising sway of Islamic conservatism here. But the province is known for a relatively moderate, multicultural attitude. And as in everything here, politics appeared to have a role.

The deputy governor, Sadiq al-Muhanna, declared the ban on music and dance in the absence of the governor, who happens to be a political rival from Mr. Maliki’s party, Dawa.The governor, Salman al-Zargany, is a relentless promoter of tourism in the province and had lobbied for the revival of the festival. The reason for his absence was unclear, though he is under investigation by the provincial council that elected him.

Mr. Muhanna argued that the Ministry of Culture had waited too long to send the program of events, including the musical and dance acts, which he called offensive to Muslims during religious ceremonies for Imam Sadiq. But he also said people had complained about the cost of staging an event so closely associated with the previous government.

“It reminded people of what Saddam used to do,” he said.

A member of the provincial council from the conservative Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Ali Hussein Ghzar, disputed Mr. Muhanna’s account. “It’s true we were opposed to the dancing and singing, because it is unacceptable morally and religious, a violation of the doctrine, but we overlooked it,” he said.

He added, “I think the reason for the festival’s failure is political, not religious.” (He also dismissed the acting in the play from Diwaniya as being “not a very good standard.”)The debacle clearly embarrassed the Ministry of Culture. In the lobby of a Baghdad hotel on Monday night, the performers waited with their baggage, uncertain what was next, as officials scrambled to find venues for them to perform, hopefully, in Baghdad.

Ms. Hamid, wearing fishnet stockings beneath short jeans, kept cheerfully saying how pretty Iraq was. “We didn’t feel any war,” she said.The troupe’s manager, Mohammed Ibrahim, expressed disappointment but seemed wary of assigning blame. “Maybe it was just circumstances,” he said. “It could happen anywhere.”


By STEVEN LEE MYERS for the New York Times, with Maha al-Kateeb contributing from Hilla, Iraq, and Khalid Ali from Baghdad.


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Getting to Know You





Young Iraqi refugees in Syria are in touch with US kids thanks to a novel idea to bring them together via web chats and video conferences. From there, friendships have blossomed, writes Sarah Birke.

In the overcrowded suburbs of Jaramana and Sayda Zeinab on the outskirts of Damascus, Syria’s capital city, the difficult lives of young Iraqi refugees are a million miles away from those of their peers in the United States.

But a project of web conference chats is bringing them closer together. For the past three years, Firas Majeed, a 34-year-old refugee from Baghdad, has been linking up young Iraqis, from nine to 19, with young people in the United States via Skype. His aim is to build friendships and show Iraqi refugees in Syria that people haven’t forgotten their existence.

The project has been so successful that Ross School, a private institution in New York State, has added the web chats to its 5th grade (10-11 year-olds) syllabus. “The conferences help the children who feel they have been forgotten and are running out of hope,” says Majeed. He started the project, Native Without A Nation, after informally helping other Iraqis to learn computer skills. That made him realize what a powerful tool the internet could be: “They are so eager to connect with the outside world.”

The Iraqi refugees have been living in run-down bare buildings since fleeing the sectarian violence which broke out in Iraq after the 2003 invasion. The United Nations’ refugee agency, the UNHCR, calculated that in January 748,000 Iraqis were residing in Syria -- the country which has taken in the largest number of Iraqi refugees. Relatively few have been resettled or have returned to Iraq. Many children are not in school; they either need to work or cannot find a school with spaces close to home. Poverty and depression engulfs the community.

Seeing this widespread malaise prompted Majeed to start his project. He had already had the idea after coming across Skype; then he found a partner in Marie Maciak, the media director at Ross Institute, the umbrella organization of the school. Maciak had met Majeed’s sister, a journalist married to an American, in New York in 2007. That prompted her to go to Syria. She met Majeed and was enthused by his efforts, and agreed to start the video conferences on her return to the United States.

Video chats with children at Ross School have given the young Iraqis friendship -- and more hope for the future. And there is also a blog on which they can write about their lives, and give updates. “The most important thing has been making new friends,” says Asmaa Ali, 13, whose family fled Bani Sa’ad in Diyala province in 2007 after their father, who worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross, was threatened. “I like learning about other people’s cultures,” says Asmaa. Her brother Hussein Ali, 16, agrees. “We need to know there are people out there who remember us and want to help us.”

The private initiative has been welcomed by refugee experts. “There is a lack of funding and programming available to address the dire mental health conditions of Iraqi refugees; this kind of cultural exchange can open children’s minds and provide them with ideas,” says Elizabeth Campbell, senior advocate at Refugees International, a US-based advocacy group. “Communications technologies should be used much more regularly in humanitarian operations, but unfortunately the agencies tend to be stuck in the habitual ways of responding.”

Initial conferences focused on conversation about family, school subjects and hobbies, but inevitably the children began to discuss the war and the US’s leading role in it. That was mainly prompted by the US students. “Our children feel very guilty about the US invasion,” says Maciak. “The older students started the conversation by apologizing for the war. They assumed Iraqi children would hate them.”

Some Iraqi families would not let their children take part in the project on account of the US role, but they are the minority. “It’s wrong to confuse the American people, especially children, with the US army or government,” said Ali, Hussein and Asmaa’s father. “They are people like us.”

The reaction of the US children -- especially those in the 11th grade (aged 16-17) with more of an understanding of the war -- was far greater than that of the Iraqi children. One session, in which they watched footage and talked about some of the refugees’ reasons for leaving their country, had the children in tears, Maciak says. “There is a real sense of shock at the situation and frustration that this could have been prevented. The kids find that hard to deal with.”

As there’s no internet connection at home, the conferences take place in one of Damascus’s myriad internet cafes. The Iraqi children have tight schedules: Many have jobs as well as school, and are expected to help in the home. So their access to the internet and email is limited.

To expand the relationship, the children have sent each other presents: textiles embroidered by the Iraqi children, bracelets, drawings. And they have jointly written a play about a young Iraqi boy who becomes an archaeologist. The Ross School children performed the play, taped it and sent it to the Iraqi children to watch.

Three years in, the project is having unforeseen benefits as an initiation for those who have been accepted for resettlement to the United States. Some of the children -- and Majeed himself -- are due to depart for the United States before the end of the year. Asmaa and Hussein’s family is also due to leave. The parents hope that having experience of the American people and a glimpse of their culture will help ease the difficulties of resettlement.

“We hope to meet the children,” says Hussein. Asmaa adds that because of the video conferences, they are less nervous than they would have been about resettlement. After all, the children speak only a little English and will be moving to an entirely new country and culture. “But at least I know what an American classroom looks like, that they have libraries and that the school system is organized.”

Beyond the initial goal of giving the Iraqi children friendship and hope, the web chats are shattering stereotypes. One American child had been fascinated by classes about ancient history but had associated modern Iraq with “bad people.” Speaking to the Iraqis made him realize they were children just like him, with the same likes, the same hopes and dreams.

Majeed says that from his new home in New York he hopes to expand Native Without A Nation beyond links between Iraqis and Americans, to reach all those who have been forced to leave their homeland. He hopes this will translate into more honest discussions among the next generations. “These are the people who will be managing the world after us. If they talk, and they understand each other, they will grow up with more empathy and think of the repercussions on others before they act.”

Sarah Birke is a journalist in Damascus, Syria. © 2010 Le Monde diplomatique


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Senior Iraqi police officer assassinated





A senior Iraqi police officer was assassinated Tuesday near his home in the suburbs of Mosul, some 400 kilometres north of Baghdad, reported authorities.

Sources said that unidentified gunmen fired on Brigadier General Mohammed Aziz, who is also the director of forensic evidence at Mosul's police headquarters. He died on the spot, according to sources.

Also in Mosul, but on Monday night, security sources said a local police officer escaped a failed assassination attempt to bomb his car with adhesive explosives.Mosul is one of the most dangerous and volatile cities in Iraq, with insurgents carrying out near-daily attacks, even as police claim that security sweeps have netted hundreds of detainees.

Both Iraqi civilians and security forces have increasingly been coming under attack from insurgents in recent months, with US forces now down to their lowest levels of 50,000 troops in Iraq since the war began in 2003.

Author: Aya Batrawy


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Babylon Festival Victim to Democracy
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