#25: Poetry and the Evolution of Free Speech in Iraq

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Amal al-Jubouri (left) with Taif Jany (right) on Iraq Matters.
Amal al-Jubouri (left) with Taif Jany (right) on Iraq Matters.

When most Americans hear the word Iraq, they assume that the conversation will be about bombs, violence, oil, or politics. While these are important modern issues, they make us forget that Iraq is home to one of the world’s first civilizations dating back 6000 years. Since that time, Iraq’s diverse people have given so much to the world through contributions to art, science, music, literature, and philosophy.

EPIC Program Manager Taif Jany talks with celebrated Iraqi poet, activist, and human rights lawyer Amal al-Jubouri about the challenges to free speech that she faced prior to the 2003 US-led invasion, the importance of sharing Iraq’s story with the world, and the role of young women in shaping Iraq’s future.

A native of Iraq, Amal Al-Jubouri published her first poetry collection, Wine from Wounds, at the age of 19. Fiercely independent, Amal’s poems critically reflect social and political life in the Arab world. This independence has won her numerous awards, including Library Journal’s Best Books of 2011 for Hagar Before the Occupation, Hagar After the Occupation. A firm believer in using art to drive change, Amal served as Yemen’s Cultural Officer in Berlin from 2000 to 2011 and founded Diwan, the German-Arab poetry magazine in 2001. She is now the Director of the Arab Human Rights Academy and CEO of Soutuna.com, promoting human rights across the Arab world.

Amal was in Washington to participate in the al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here Project. Al-Mutanabbi Street, named for the 10th century Iraqi poet, is the intellectual center of Baghdad. It is a place where thinkers and philosophers have gathered for centuries to exchange ideas and knowledge, and where works by Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, Christians, Jews, and the many other diverse communities of the region are available in its numerous bookstores. In 2007, this celebrated street was attacked by a car bombing that put its future in jeopardy. The booksellers who survived have since rebuilt their stores, and the street is open once again—a testament to the strength and resilience of its caretakers and patrons like Amal.

This episode of Iraq Matters was originally conducted in Arabic (available here). We offer much appreciation to Marion Abboud for assisting with the English translation.