Orit Bashkin: Talks about Iraq's golden age of intellectual ferment

Historians in the News

THE IRAQ OF today seems to be defined by nothing so much as the hatreds and rivalries of its two main Muslim sects, Sunnis and Shi'ites. After the extraordinary violence of recent years, some pundits wonder if Iraq's various factions could ever share enough good will to live together in a democracy. If they can't, the alternatives are grim: another ruling strongman like Saddam Hussein, or a Shi'ite theocracy akin to the regime in Iran. Some question whether Iraq even has enough internal coherence to function as a nation, since its borders were established only in the 1920s as Great Britain scooped up shards of the fallen Ottoman Empire.

University of Chicago historian Orit Bashkin explores a golden age of intellectual ferment in Iraq.
But a forthcoming book by University of Chicago historian Orit Bashkin suggests there may be a little more hope than we think. In "The Other Iraq: Pluralism and Culture in Hashemite Iraq," to be published this fall, Bashkin explores a forgotten golden age of intellectual ferment from the 1920s through the 1950s, when many writers and artists championed nationalism, democracy, and secularism, as they mingled in student groups, publishing houses, labor unions, and political parties. They included not just Shi'ites and Sunnis but Jews, Kurds, and Turkomans.

The Iraq of the time wasn't exactly a model democracy; it was controlled first by the British and then by a British-influenced monarchy, the Hashemites. There were trappings of democracy but only limited suffrage and plenty of repression and colonialist meddling, Bashkin says, but Iraq still provided fertile ground for members of an educated elite to explore their political identities and philosophies within and across ethnic and religious boundaries....
Read entire article at Boston Globe

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