“there is nothing but burning words”
Iraqi poet Ahmed Abdel Sara recites a poem in the ruins of Baghdad's al-Mutanabi street. Poets gathered to recite poems at Mutanabi street which was destroyed by a deadly car bomb on March 6.(AFP/Ali Al-Saadi)
It was a week – again – of devastation in Iraq. While Bush and Maliki spoke of the "success" of their "surge," events on the ground continue to tell a very different story. As I was collecting the news for my Saturday roundup on Today in Iraq, several reports stood out and I wanted to share them with you.
From Thursday's AFP report by Khalil Jalil we learn of a gathering on Baghdad's Mutanabi Street. A street of bookstores and cafes, Mutanabi was bombed to rubble on Monday and 30 people were killed with another 65 wounded. On Thursday, the poets of Baghdad gathered and Jalil lets us hear their voices:
They recited verses beside the bloodstains, they vowed defiance amid the rubble. Just days after bombers ripped Baghdad's cultural heartland to shreds, the poets and artists were back.Artist Jabbar Muhaibs, one of the leaders of Thursday's gathering, put a wooden crate over his head during a performance to mourn the death of cultural life in what is left of Mutanabi Street, Iraq's ancient centre of the arts.
"The light will not be lit here again," said Muhaibs mournfully, his voice muffled by the crate.
The blood of the dead stained the street while the ashes of burnt books dusted the rubble of what was once a lively maze of bookshops and cafes where war-weary writers, publishers, teachers and intellectuals once gathered.
Muhaibs, a lecturer at the Baghdad Fine Arts Academy, leapt atop a burnt out car and recited: "What has happened to the poems and the poetry, all covered in blood and lying with the scattered souls and the bodies beneath the rubble?"
Renowned poet Abdul Zahra Zaki took over, mounting the wreckage of what was once the popular Al-Shabanda cafe to recite a poem entitled "Words, words, words." Zaki described the wasteland before him, mourned the desolation wrought by the bombers, and concluded, "There is nothing here, there is nothing but burning words."
Poet Tawfeeq Timemi then strode forward, urging his fellow writers not to give in to despair. "We won't give up even though these criminal acts are targeting our culture," he said. "We won't give in to the repression. We must rebuild and restore Mutanabi Street so that culture will again flourish."
At the end of the readings, poet Abdul Zahra delivered a statement urging all "Arabic men of letters" and poets from across the globe to support Iraqi intellectuals.
"Amid the rubble of Mutanabi Street and the wreckage of libraries and priceless books, not far from the bodies of our dead friends, the poets of Baghdad are standing amid rubble, smoke and the sound of bullets," he said. Iraqis, he added, were looking forward to their Arab counterparts "raising a voice of solidarity and standing beside those of us gathered in Baghdad, the capital of humanity, civilisation and the witness of history."
Another event in Baghdad this past week also speaks in the clear strong voice of the Iraqi people who even now, even with the devastation they face each day, demand to be treated as free people. From the reporting of the independent Al Aswat:
Iraqi students rallied and prevented, on Thursday, a U.S. force from entering the campus of the second largest university in Baghdad, an eyewitness student said.
"U.S. forces tried this morning to raid the campus of al-Mustansiriyah university, east of Baghdad, but students gathered in rallies to protest the move," a student, who was present there, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). He added "the rallies led the force to withdraw from the location."
"The students were upset at repeated violations against the university campus," he said, and added "it no longer remains a campus after it was attacked with bombs and raided by U.S. forces." Last month Al-Mustansiriyah university, the second largest in Baghdad, saw a suicide bombing that claimed scores of lives. It was also raided more than once by U.S. forces in 2006.
Finally, this week, the words of Mohammed ibn Laith who blogs at GorillasGuides and speaks these "burning words:"
My grandchildren’s grandchildren, will teach their grandchildren to hate America for what she has done to us. Never ever ever will I, or they, forget or forgive what your barbaric country has done to us.
In this week when the Iraqi bloggers at Guides mourn the death of a team member … in this week, I wonder when we – citizens of the America which has caused this devastation – will find the burning words to finally end this war.