Featured Image: a Crowd of protesters in Tahrir square (30 October 2019). By Revoulation2019, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.
Iraq has been in violent turmoil at least since 1989 when Saddam Hussein
started an 8-year war against the newly created Islamic government of Iran. For historical reasons, the Middle East has failed to build-multi-State structures or dialogue forums to handle strong disputes. While many States in the world have to deal with diversity and plurality, creating a national cohesion has been particularly difficult in Iraq since its inception as a State after World War One.
There was a short period of hope linked to protests held at Al Tahrir Square
in Baghdad from October 2019 to March 2020 when the protests were brutally put down by the police and the military, killing some 700 young people. It is this period of hope and its crushing that is the theme of this book of poems translated from Arabic to English.
The book is dedicated:
“To the young people of Iraq and around the world whose protests of hope flared up in the darkness of 2019… We who watched this senseless sacrifice in the name of a more hopeful future can only redouble our efforts to make the world worthy of your light.”
The Al Tahrir protests, unlike earlier or later protests which were usually regional or religiously sectarian, crossed confessional and regional barriers, bringing together especially youth no longer trusting government promises for better services – promises that were never carried out.
As Muhammad Karim writes in This is How You Go Out:
“With your hot blood
With your terror
With your voice in the ears of deaf gods
With your clothes soaked in soot and blood
With your bare chests
This is how you go out…this is how you go out.”
There were both young women and men among the protesters, sometimes in love with each other but with a sense of doom as Enas Philip Muhammad writes:
“You know, my love
You know very well
The roads I walk cannot accommodate two.”
Most of the poems were written after the movement had been crushed. Thus there is a melancholic tone to many and the theme of the dead as martyrs, as in Maytham Rad’s The Martyrs Don’t Want Anything.
“The martyrs don’t want anything
Except that the holes in their bodies
Made by bullets
Become the punctuation marks
Of an incomprehensible language.”
As Ali Riyadh wrote:
“There is a seed of freedom that has been handed down
From alley to street, from square to cafe, from town to town
The seed fell upon her soil hundreds of times and never tooted.”
There is little hope for future action. As Ayad Al-Qala’ay writes:
“Absorbed in counting their heavy days they did not know – were were the last generation of a sunken ship.”
In the same spirit Hamid Al-Madamii writes:
“Neither the just end
Nor the right start
Will ever happen.”
This book of moving poems is a cooperative effort. Sama Hussein in Iraq had collected the poems for an Arabic anthology published in Baghdad upon which this book is based.
Camilla Reeve is the publisher of Palewell Press. All are to be thanked for bringing these poems to a wider public.
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