World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Iraq in the 1990s: Cultural and Political Trends (054) - Panel

· Date: MON 19, 5.00-7.00 pm

· Institution: George Washington University (USA)

· Organizer: Dina Rizk Khoury

· Language: English

· Description: Chair: Dina Rizk Khoury, George Washington University

Much of the writing and analyses of 1990s Iraq focuses on the sanctions and their impact, the neo-tribal policies of the regime, and the disintegration of the state. The Iraq of the 1990s is a dystopia shaped by criminal state practices, tribal politics and pauperized populations. While there is much that is true in this picture of Iraq, there is very little in the literature that allows us to understand how Iraqis coped and at times flourished within the constraints created by the regime and the sanctions. By bringing together Iraqi intellectuals and scholars of different backgrounds and persuasions who lived in Iraq in the 1990s or who write on Iraq in that period, this panel attempts to move the discussion of the period away from an analysis of high politics to the ways in which different segments on the Iraqi population survived. Ali Bader is one of the leading intellectuals of the period. Author of several novels, some of them award winning, he has been the leading proponent and leader of a group of intellectuals of the 90s who argue for the emergence of a different kind of intellectual movement in the absence of strong state controls over the institutions of culture. In his submission to this panel, he attempts to flesh how his generation differed from their predecessors and explores the reasons behind this difference. Haider Saeed, another of the group of intellectuals in the 1990s, argues that the absence of state controls in the 1990s, created the opportunity for Iraqi intellectuals, for the first time, to move away from the central question of the relationship of the intellectual to the state to a more critical assessment of the cultural history of Iraq. Drawing on the works European intellectuals who write critical and linguistic theories, Iraqi intellectuals of the 90s sought to move away from the agendas set up by their predecessors on the struggle between modernity and tradition, authenticity and imitation, to a critical analysis of the modernization project itself. Dhiaa al-Asadi, a PhD candidate at Birmingham University, an intellectual who had been involved in the redefinition of Shi’I practice and political thought through his reading and work with Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr in the 1990s, examines the socio-activism of the Sadrist movement in the 90s and argues that it constituted a paradigm shift in modern political Shi’ism. Dr. Joseph Sassoon, Lecturer at Georgetown University, will draw on his research in the Ba’th Party Regional Command Archives, to discuss the transformation in the practices of the Ba’th party at the local level, focusing particularly on its cultural policies in regional offices. He will look at the list of books available to party members at local libraries to arrive at certain conclusion on the cultural practices of the Ba’th party.

Paper presenter: Ali Bader, Independent Acholar. “The 1990s: A New Generation of Intellectuals in Iraq”
The study of Iraqi culture of the 1990s necessitates the definition of a new generation of intellectuals that is distinct from previous generations. The changing political and social realities in that period helped sharply distinguish the 1990s generation from its predecessors. The nineties, this paper will argue, saw the emergence of a generation of intellectuals that attempted to move the ideologically inflected cultural debates espoused by their nationalist and communist predecessors on issues of tradition and modernity in literature and poetry to a critical assessment of the foundational texts of Iraqi national culture. The paper will explore the cultural and institutional mechanisms within which these intellectuals worked and published.

Paper presenter: Haider Saeed, independent scholar, “The Birth of the Non-State Intellectual: The Critical Trend in Iraqi Culture”
The relationship of the state to Iraqi intellectuals has been central to their articulation of self and their place in the narrative of nationhood. This paper argues that the 1990s provided the historical opportunity to reformulate our understanding of this relationship. The weakness of state institutions allowed Iraqi intellectuals to take a critical approach to the underlying structures of modern Iraqi culture. In particular, the central role of poetry in the definition of Iraqi modernity was jettisoned by the human sciences as a vehicle for a critical appraisal of Iraqi cultural production. Although a version of structuralism and linguistic had been familiar to Iraqi intellectuals in the 1980s, the 1990s intellectuals created a rupture between the historical bases of Iraqi culture and the human sciences.

Paper presenter: Dhiaa N. Al-Asadi, Phd candidate, University of Birmingham, “Sadr II: the leader of the articulate revolution”
This paper focuses on the movement of Muhammad Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr (Sadr II) in the 1990s. I argue that Sadr II represents the second phase of Sadrism, which is, in many different ways, the most important, and the most problematic in modern Iraqi Shi’ism. In a relatively short time, Sadr II was able to revive, condense, and revolutionize Sadr I''s (his cousin and mentor Muhammad Baqir Al-Sadr) religious and sociopolitical efforts. I believe that Sadr II's movement has been the most significant, albeit the least researched, contribution to Iraqi Shi’i sociopolitical activism. Sadr II's importance stems from his ability to mobilize hundred of thousands of the younger generation. Moreover, he radicalized the traditional Shi’i position toward political participation and social reformation and promulgated a Shi’i worldview in a hostile environment. His project was a multifaceted revolutionary movement aiming to revolutionize a traditional intellectual and religious paradigm; undermine a dictatorship; and establish an Islamic government or a government that recognizes Islam as one of its main legislative sources. By and large, Sadr II’s movement was a paradigm shift in the modern sociopolitical history of Shi’ism and Iraq.

Paper presenter: Professor Joseph Sassoon, Georgetown University. “The Ba’th Party in the 1990s”.
Following the 1991 Gulf War and the intifada, Saddam Husayn realized that the Ba’th Party was not constructed to deal with local uprisings. He castigated the local branches for not being close to the masses and not having the ability neither to anticipate the intifada, nor the means to crush it. The paper will discuss the shift in focus within the Ba’th Party during the 1990s when it refined the various emergency plans. In addition, the paper will highlight other changes within the Party such as the increase in recruitment of new members, the ‘cultural’ activities of the branches and the stringent evaluations of the members.