Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"I was the right person in the right place."

Courtesy of Martin Kramer's site, here is an interesting interview with Iraqi National Library Director Dr. Saad Eskander from the Guardian. The article has a slight anti-American spin, which is to be expected from the Guardian, but it is still very much worth reading:

In 2003, Saad Eskander had just finished his PhD at the London School of Economics when he decided to return to Baghdad. Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime had been overthrown and the dictator was in hiding. Thirteen years after seeking asylum in Britain, the former teenage Kurdish fighter was going home to help rebuild his country. "In London, I was part of a group of Iraqi painters and writers who decided to visit Baghdad to see what we could do in the sphere of cultural education," he recalls.

It sounds, I suggest, a wildly utopian project to undertake in the middle of a city seething with foreign troops, sectarian militias, gunfire and car bombs. "It is," says Eskander, looking over his glasses at me with a slight smile, "extremely important. Without cultural education, we cannot emerge from Saddam Hussein's dictatorship properly. Without it, we cannot resist the ideas of religious fundamentalism." But still, it is an almost hopeless and insanely dangerous thing to try to attempt. "All my friends went back to London," he concedes. "But I decided to stay."

Five years on, Eskander, who was born in Baghdad, still works in the Iraqi capital, and continues to insist that cultural education is one of the most important means to reconstruct the Iraqi homeland about which he has come to feel patriotic. "One month after I arrived, I was told there was a job and asked if I'd be interested in applying." The job turned out to be director general of the Iraq national library and archives. "Under Saddam Hussein, this was an arm of the dictatorship. The [new] minister of culture wanted to ensure it was not a Ba'athist director. He needed someone who could modernise the library, and he knew of my background - fighting with the Kurdish Resistance Movement in northern Iraq, and studying history in London. I was the right person in the right place."


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