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Iraq Works to Rebuild Cultural Life - 2004-07-15

Iraq's Minister of Culture says rebuilding the country's cultural life will be a decades-long process because of the damage done by the Saddam Hussein regime.

According to Minister Mufid al-Jazeeri, Saddam Hussein feared intellectuals and people with opinions. It was that fear, according to the minister, that caused the former Iraqi dictator to "crush Iraq's culture."

"There was no culture during the era of Saddam Hussein," he said. "Sadam Hussein and his government systematically destroyed culture. They did understand that culture is one of the main enemies of their regime. They did understand that cultured people, people who do think, are dangerous for their dictatorship. So, they prepared and realized many plans to keep people far from culture, isolate them from culture. They were sure they were right that people far from culture, uncultured people, are easy for their regime to manipulate them and to misuse them and to change them."

All but gone are movie theaters, playhouses, opera and concert halls, museums, art galleries and the list goes on. While Iraq boasts 7,000 years of civilization, today there are few signs of a modern Iraqi culture.

Minister al-Jazeeri says he believes culture must be present in order for democracy to take hold. In his view, culture is what helps advance mankind.

"It gives the meaning for life," he said. "Uncultured people are also living, but their life is so poor that it is really nearer to the life of animals than the life of real people, cultured people."

Minister al-Jazeeri says Saddam Hussein spent decades treating Iraqis like animals. As a result, he says the country must, from scratch, begin building and reinvigorating its culture. But he says because the country must first deal with more pressing issues, including rebuilding its badly battered infrastructure and addressing security concerns, his office is woefully under-funded.

Consequently, the minister says rebuilding Iraq's cultural life will take decades. But, he says, at least Iraqis have the chance to develop a modern culture, now that Saddam Hussein is gone from power.