Iraqi Civil Activists Hold Reading Group in Baghdad

Amid daily reports of violence and terrorism, Iraqi civil activists organize a collective book reading in Baghdad to challenge the country’s prevailing stereotype.

al-monitor People browse through books as part of a reading initiative in Abu Nawas Park in Baghdad, Sept. 28, 2013. The "I am Iraqi ... I read" initiative was launched in Baghdad to encourage Iraqis to read in a country that has suffered decades of war and internal struggle. Photo by REUTERS/Ahmed Saad.

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Sep 29, 2013

On the afternoon of Sept. 21, Baghdad witnessed its largest ever reading gathering. The event included old books that enrich the minds of readers with literature and science, pushing authors to come up with new topics year after year. The gathering also included theatrical plays and paintings that could be mistaken for real photography.

The festival took place near the Shahryar Scheherazade statue, a commemoration of the famous One Thousand and One Nights tale. Refuting the hearsay that places Iraq in a category of cultural and social backwardness as a result of terrorism and death, people of all ages and groups, including children, participated in the festival, proving to the world how accurate Egyptian novelist Taha Hussein was when he said: “Egypt writes, Lebanon prints, and Iraq reads.”

The reading gathering spanned from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m; even carrying on to 7:00 p.m. in the Abu Nawas Gardens in the center of the Iraqi capital overlooking the Tigris River. Two weeks earlier, the leaflets of the initiative were distributed at libraries in Mutanabbi Street, near the old Ottoman cannons and at the Free Art Atelier. The invitation to the festival bares the words “I am Iraqi … I read.”

Two months before the start of the festival, the organizers started a book donation campaign. The effort brought in a large number of old books, including books released this year and books that have not been signed yet. These books were printed in Beirut, Iraq and other countries. Even foreign books were available for reading during the festival.

Most of the books shelved in the festival donation box were from intellectuals and local publishing houses. Financial donations were made for the logistics of the festival and mostly came from journalists and friends of the organizers, knowing that money donations started a few days before. The festival included art activities, such as sculpture and music, a drawing exhibition and a photography exhibition, with theatrical plays, all focusing on reading.

The organizers, who are civil activists and journalists, displayed more than 6,000 books, while giving readers the liberty to take the books or return them after reading. During this year’s round of donations, more than 4,000 books were collected. They were added to the books collected last year, of which nearly 2,000 publications remain.

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