Tag Archives: Baghdad

Emirates Lit Fest 2017: Poets, writers celebrate Iraq’s book street Al Mutanabbi

By Tahira Yaqoob

Mohammad Al Khashali counts off each of his sons, one by one. There was Kadhem, found under the rubble of the printing house, no more than “a piece of meat”. Mohammed, who had taken a hit to the stomach and lost his left foot. His youngest, Bilal, whose head he had to search for among the ruins after finding a decapitated body. And his eldest, Ghanim, his body curled around his own dismembered son’s corpse, right where they had been carrying out repairs on the printing press.

“The good people of Baghdad brought their pick-ups and we found and gathered body parts, limbs,” says Al Khashali quietly in the short film, Forgive But Never Forget that screened in Dubai on Sunday as part of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.

“I took the bodies home. Their mother wanted me to remove their shrouds so she could see them. I did not want her to see them like that, pieces of meat, but she insisted. She wailed and fell to the floor.”

That terrible day in March 2007, when 30 people were killed and more than 100 injured in a street full of booksellers, is etched in the memories of Iraqis.

The car bomb attack outside Al Khashali’s Shabandar Cafe in Al Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad was seen not just as an assault on Iraqi civilians but as an offensive against the very heart of culture, learning and civilisation itself.

For almost a century, the cafe had served as a magnet for Iraqi poets, playwrights, philosophers, dissenters and politicians who would sit on wooden benches and discuss the ebb and flow of life, love and politics for hours, over cups of sweetened tea.

That was all shattered with the eruption of sectarian violence following the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Al Mutanabbi Street – a narrow, winding alleyway leading to the Tigris River, and the cultural heartbeat of Baghdad – became a target.

Its many booksellers and street book vendors began to fear for their lives after Qais Anni, a stationer who sold Easter cards, was killed in a bomb blast in 2005, followed two years later by the attack on the Shabandar. Read more

Source: The National

The rise and fall of the Bayt-al-Hikmah

By Mini Krishnan

Baghdad was once home to the world’s largest translation centre.

Within 25 years of the death of their Prophet, the Arabs conquered the whole of Persia, Syria, Armenia, and a bit of Central Asia. In the east, they reached the Indus river and Sindh. In the west, they swept across Egypt and northern Africa, crossed the seas and landed at Gibraltar. In time, Spain too fell.

They were soon in possession of a different kind of power. In 751 AD, they captured Chinese paper-makers. This knowledge changed the nature of how writing was shared and stored. When the strongest people in the world saw the importance of establishing libraries, learning sprang up everywhere in their footsteps. Muslims were the first people to show an interest in translating manuscripts and scrolls from cultures other than theirs. Popularly known as the knowledge empire of the caliphs, there followed a history of 500 years of Islamic library building. By the ninth century, scholars in Cordoba and Spain were corresponding with their counterparts in Cairo, Bokhara, Samarkand and Baghdad. Baghdad! Persian for “gift from God”! Read more

Source: The Hindu

Baghdad history wins Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize

The author of the Ondaatje Prize-winning Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood speaks of the difficulties of writing while in a warzone

Last Monday, Justin Marozzi won the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize for Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood. On Tuesday he was off to Norway, to join in a Nato war-gaming exercise as a media and communications expert. After what he’s been through in recent years, he joked: “The peaceful fjords of Scandinavia will take a bit of getting used to.”

Marozzi, 44, won the £10,000 prize, for a book “evoking the spirit of a place”, with a history that skilfully blends reportage from the modern-day city with research into the ancient one (it was founded in 762). “Baghdad,” he says with understatement, “is not the easiest place in the world in which to live, work or conduct historical research.”

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