Iraq today is a shadow of what it used to be
“Lebanon writes. Egypt prints. Iraq reads.” This saying from the past perfectly exemplifies how the Iraqi people once endowed the passion and thirst for knowledge through the beauty of literature. Arab students were considered very fortunate if they were allowed to attend a university in Baghdad.
Anyone with knowledge of modern Iraq surely knows that at one point in time, the country was well-known in the region for higher education in the arts, poetry, theatre, medicine, and architecture.
A society such as this should not be a fertile environment for any radical ideology. Unfortunately, it is now.
The middle class began to rise in Iraq after World War I and started to flourish with the emergence of the modern Iraqi state. Since then, it would have its ups and downs until it became what it is today. The signs were there but…
There are many reasons why Iraq’s society became so receptive to ideologies that were, at one point, shunned by most.
One of the major factors is the mass emigration waves in the middle- and upper-class societies caused by drastic political and economic changes.
In 1958, a large number of Iraqis immigrated mostly to the West when a military coup took the Hashemite monarchy down and overthrew King Faisal II, in one of Iraq’s bloodiest moments.
The second wave was during the 1970s under the ruling Ba’ath Party when the government began targeting left-wing intellectuals, prompting them to flee their homeland towards Eastern Europe, out of fear of imprisonment, torture and execution.
During the 1990s, a new wave of emigration rose, following the end of the Iraq-Iran war and the invasion of Kuwait, which led to tough international sanctions.
The sanctions affected the lives of most of the nation. The well-educated and professional Iraqis no longer had the means to continue making ends meet.
With the escalation of violence and religious sectarianism after 2003, much of what was left of the middle class fled Iraq in hopes of finding refuge anywhere that offered a chance at a decent and safe life for them and their families.
All these events severed the country’s backbone. Pursuit of higher education became an astoundingly unnecessary option, as opposed to generations past, which yearned for wisdom. Now the country is creating a generation lacking in communication skills, with little to no education and a pure lack of respect for the legacy of what was Iraq.
When you have a large number of impressionable youths along with a high rate of illiteracy piled on top of the disappointment and loss of hope for a brighter future, it would only make sense that radical ideologies would grow like a virus.
There’s no magic solution to the problems — no instant “restart” button. A long-term, well-funded commitment to education is needed.
Unfortunately, since 2003, the successive governments have had no interest in building a healthy and educated society that will take Iraq out of the medieval age. Sadly, nor will new ones in the near future because having an educated nation would eliminate any chance of them remaining in power.
Winston Churchill definitely knew what he was talking about when he said: “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”