Intellectuals and writers seem particularly disoriented in the new Iraq. Many were alive in the decades before 1968, when the Baath Party took control, which was a time of cultural renaissance in Iraq. But in 1979, when Mr. Hussein became president, he began banning books, singling out writers and intellectuals, jailing them and blocking publication of their work.
The employees of the Dar al-Bayan bookstore used a small crawl space in an attic area to hide favorite books that were banned. Some writers left the country, but many stayed, surviving by meeting secretly and circulating photocopies of banned books....
As far as reading about the ousted government itself, the period is still too raw for most. However, Mr. Khakhani said a book by Mr. Hussein's former doctor, Ala Bashir, called "In the Name of Terror," had been selling well.
Some abandon modern history and escape to ancient times. Suha Turaihi, an intellectual in Baghdad, said she was reading a book about Sabians, an ancient religion of Mesopotamia that dates to hundreds of years before Christ and still exists....
Young Iraqis are making different choices. At a bookstore in Mustansiriyah University, a large public university here, students flipped through romance novels and books on astrology.
Religious books, mostly on Shiite themes, which were banned under Mr. Hussein but have streamed into Iraq since his fall, were also in abundant supply.
Though college students remain relatively secular, said Zaid Hadithy, the shop owner, young people in the broader population "are going in a religious direction" as they search for a structure for their lives in an environment where the rules have fallen away....
[Mufeed] Jazaery [who was culture minister in the recent interim government] said he worried about the power of religion among young Iraqis. Anyone who was born after 1980 grew up during Iraq's decline into war and economic sanctions. Corruption and poverty have eroded the once-strong educational system, leaving young people vulnerable to populist leaders like Mr. Sadr.
"They can read, they can write, but they can't understand," Mr. Jazaery said. "That's good for dictatorship and dangerous for democracy. It's a spare army for all hard-line elements."
June 27, 2005
So Iraqis are reading books.