Initiative revives Iraqi love for books
Under the gaze of the statues of Scheherazade and Shahrayar in the centre of Baghdad, dozens of Iraqis sprawled in the gardens of historic Abu Nuwas Street, holding books provided for them under an initiative aimed to encourage reading.
They gathered on Saturday (September 29th) to read various books for more than two hours, in a cultural phenomenon described by organisers as a festival called "I am Iraqi, I read". The idea for the festival was born at the spur of the moment by a group of young people, most of them university students, according to poet and journalist Ahmed Abdul Hussein, one of the event organisers.
The initiative is "based on a previous similar idea that was implemented in Tunisia to promote a culture of reading", he added. "The idea for this project began more than three months ago," he told Mawtani. "We promoted it through social networking sites Facebook and Twitter and received support from intellectuals, media establishments and personalities concerned with culture.
We also received support from bookshop owners in al-Mutanabbi Street, who provided all kinds of books." Abdul Hussein said the festival aims to draw the public's attention to books and their role in building and strengthening a human being able to contribute to building the country and partaking in its revival.
Abdul Hussein said the event was "a celebration, as we saw it, because all those in attendance were happy. The atmosphere was suited to and encouraged reading, especially since the event was staged at one of the prettiest gardens in Baghdad, overlooking the Tigris River".
"I see it as an encouraging sign to continue in this effort," he added. Various other cultural activities were staged as part of this festival, including a photography exhibit, an open-air painting session and musicians that played folkloric music, while participants were offered books on the arts, literature, science, history and politics – as well as children's books -- to read.
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In a symbolic rendition of famous English playwright William Shakespeare's masterpiece, "Romeo and Juliet", an Iraqi adaptation of the love story seeks to fight terrorism with love and confront murder with a red rose. The performance, dubbed "Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad", wraps up on Thursday (October 4th) at the Katara Cultural Village in Doha.
The production, which attracted a wide audience, is inspired by the famous English play to symbolise the Iraqi realities of a country torn by sectarian conflict. It was originally presented at the opening of the World Shakespeare Festival in Stratford-on-Avon, England in April 2012, and was followed by performances in London as part of the cultural events at the London Olympics 2012.
In the Iraqi version, the two leading characters come from different religious sects. The plot unfolds against a backdrop of sectarian conflict and warlords who seek to destroy the love between the two, which only grew with the intensity of the challenges they faced. Much of the humour in the play is provided by the buffoonish al-Qaeda character, who is Juliet's former suitor.
"The play seeks to give a lesson in love and how this love can be the cure and salvation from sectarian crises and war," director Munadhel Dawood told Al-Shorfa. "Terrorism coming [from outside] of Iraq's borders seeks to rip apart a harmonious society; therefore, the play emphasises that love can make a difference and re-unite Iraqis," Dawood said.
"It is a message to sectarian leaders who control Iraq today and a lesson in aesthetics that counterbalances any ugliness that some would like to inflict on Iraq," he added. In the play, a history professor -- played by Iraqi actor Sami Abdul Hameed – embodies the role of the priest who unites Romeo and Juliet in the original Shakespearean story.
This role, according to theatre critic Ahmed al-Wahaibi, is inspired by Iraq's long history as a builder of the world's first civilisations. "The history professor was a good choice as a link between the two protagonists," al-Wahaibi told Al-Shorfa.
"Iraq has a long history and an ancient civilisation that deserves pride; hence, a nation with this tremendous historical wealth cannot and should not fall prey to inner fighting." On the contrary, he added, "it can use history to create a bond that unites its citizens irrespective of their convictions". A CRY FOR LIFE IN THE FACE OF DEATH
The star of the play, Ahmed Moneka, sees it as "an aesthetic project that screams in the face of anyone that tries to destroy Iraq". "It is another cry for life in the face of death, for love in the face of hatred," Moneka said.
"The play is a message for whoever wants to destroy Iraq; a message that says, 'Enough hatred and destruction'. Iraq is the land of love and tolerance and should stay that way." Dawood uses both comedy and Iraqi folkloric dances to diversify the events of his play, using humour to deal with a painful reality in a satirical way.
Iraqi dance tableaus were also present throughout the love scenes between the two protagonists. In the end of the play, as the two lovers are being married, a car bomb explodes and the audience is left to wonder if Romeo and Juliet have survived. But ultimately, the message of the play is that love conquers all and succeeds in quelling the raging sectarian fires in Iraq.
By Nasser ElGhanem