“Speaking Truth to Power?” Intellectuals in Iraqi Baathist Cultural Production
How free can intellectuals (writers, poets, and artists) continue to exist in a political system that exercises a huge amount of pressure, control, and censorship, forcing them to conform to its heavily skewed ideological and historical perspectives? The core question of a dispute among Iraqi intellectuals since 2003 has been: Who has the right to speak for Iraq? This question underlines the need to delve deeper; it touches upon the urgency of re-examining the political and cultural dynamics of Baathist rule, the cultural institutions of which provided a restrictive framework within an overall atmosphere of intimidation, control, and surveillance. During this time, Iraqi intellectuals took on various attitudes, varying from compliance and collaboration, to resistance to the system or outright exile. The rift between Iraqi intellectuals is mostly between those on the "inside" and those on the "outside." This paper discusses the relationship between intellectuals and power and the peculiarities of Iraqi cultural production in Baathist times, and then analyses the role of intellectuals through two case studies, debating the strategies of survival and complicity.
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