Iraq’s New Marketplace of Ideas: Graffiti

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

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Writing On The Wall

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