Iraq's New Marketplace of Ideas: Graffiti


| August 8, 2003


What Americans would call graffiti or vandalism -- writing on the walls -- has quickly become an important mode for Iraqis to freely express opinions of every nature. Nermeen Al-Mufti, reporting from Baghdad, writes that during the last two months the walls near her house have 'been witness to the sentiments and longing of the Iraqi people.' Before the fall of Baghdad to U.S. forces, the walls were entirely blank except for the face of Saddam Hussein. Now buildings throughout the city are covered with political and personal commentary from hugely differing perspectives.

Much of the writing is political in nature. After American troops entered Iraq many of the pictures of Saddam were defaced. A poster near Al Mufti's house that had previously read 'yes, yes to Saddam,' was changed to 'no, no to Saddam.' Later someone added the word 'criminal' in front of Saddam's name. However, anger and resentment is not, by any means, limited to the former leader of Iraq. One wall reads, 'Americans, sooner or later we will kick you out.' And at times the two opinions clash, 'Thank you Mr. Bush,' was later crossed out by someone else.

Ali Omer, a young writer in Baghdad, commented, 'I discovered the draw-back of democracy, it dirties the walls!' Metaphorically, the 'dirty' masses of opinions covering the walls reflects the greatly commingled ethnic and religious groups in the country. Shatha Hassan, a teacher in the Institute of Fine Arts, says that the walls reflect the massive instability of the country. Thus, some of the writing directed towards the future possibilities of an Iraqi government. Walls read, 'Yes to a secular government,' or, 'There is no democratic Iraq without resolution of the Kurdish issue.' On this note, there is also the positive outlook, 'Arab and Kurds together will rebuild Iraq.' Sadly, the walls are also representative of a war-torn country where positive steps forward are taken very slowly. One university student writing on the wall said, 'We still don't know if we'll be taking our exams or not. Nobody reads the papers, so maybe our demands will be seen on the walls.'
-- Joel Stonington

Go there>>The Writing On The Wall

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