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Wide Gulf Divides Iraqi Youth From Older Generation

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Wide Gulf Divides Iraqi Youth From Older Generation


Wide Gulf Divides Iraqi Youth From Older Generation

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There is a generation gap in Iraq. Young Iraqis differ from their parents in attitudes on politics, religion, even on Saddam Hussein. These are the preliminary findings of a new survey of Iraqi youth, a generation born during a brutal dictatorship that experienced an American invasion and witnessed violent religious extremism, often firsthand.

NPR's Deborah Amos reports from Baghdad.

(Soundbite of music)

DEBORAH AMOS: One thing you notice in Iraq, it's a very young country. Sixty-five percent of the population is under 25, and they often express themselves in surprising ways.

These four young men, all under 25, get together to play heavy metal music. Their dark lyrics reflect their view of life in Baghdad.

(Soundbite of music)

AMOS: Abu Ghraib is Iraq's infamous prison, the song has this refrain: War after war is consuming our age, war after war with no limit to rage.

Mr. HUMAM IBRAHIM: It's our life. We live in war. We are raised on war.

Mr. RAFI SA'IB: It talks about our situation, our society.

AMOS: Humam Ibrahim and Rafi Sa'ib say heavy metal music is how they express what they see and what they feel.

Mr. IBRAHIM: It's been seven years, nothing changed. It's getting worse.

Mr. SA'IB: It's worse.

Mr. IBRAHIM: I hate politics.

AMOS: The music is unusual in Iraq, but the anger and disillusion among this group of friends, Christian and Muslim, confirms new findings about young Iraqis, says Eric Davis, a political scientist at Rutgers University.

Professor ERIC DAVIS (Political Science, Rutgers University): I would be less than honest if I didn't report that many of these young people are very, very cynical.

AMOS: Davis has been conducting focus groups across the country, testing attitudes of a generation that sets them apart from their parents.

Prof. DAVIS: The interesting thing is that these young people do not maintain strong sectarian identities.

AMOS: After years of sectarian violence, many young Iraqis fault clerics and political leaders for inciting the hatred that cost so many lives, says Davis. Preliminary surveys reveal another startling attitude among some young Iraqis.

Prof. DAVIS: They actually even reject Islam, because they've come to associate Islam with many of the political figures who have used Islam to promote violence and incite instability for political ends, not for specifically religious ends.

AMOS: Arkan Mohammed is one member of Davis' focus group.

Mr. ARKAN MOHAMMED: (Through Translator) So Iraqi young generation, they are not against Islam as a religion. But they are frustrated right now, as long as the government got controlled by Islamists or these Islamic parties.

AMOS: The youth survey shows a generational divide that extends to other aspects of life, says Davis. Older Iraqis grew up in a closed society under Saddam. For the young, the Internet has opened the door to the world outside.

Prof. DAVIS: What we are seeing here is not just a generational split in the normal sense of the word, but really the opportunity for the younger generation to have access to information that their parents could have never dreamed of.

AMOS: But in a country with car bombs and kidnappings, the Internet is a consuming escape. Those heavy metal guys, Rafi and Humam, say they're on the Web for 10 hours a day.

Mr. SA'IB: You can say Internet is only our friend.

AMOS: So your life is online.

Mr. IBRAHIM: Yeah.

Mr. SA'IB: Yeah. Always.

Mr. IBRAHIM: We can go out, okay. But it's dangerous.

Mr. SA'IB: Yeah. Can escape from our situation online.

AMOS: This is the generation that will inherit Iraq. Davis is preparing a larger study this year.

Prof. DAVIS: I want to try to move beyond just this kind of initial results. But the other thing I would point out that was disturbing to me, there was very, very little historical knowledge.

AMOS: These kids are living Iraq's turbulent history. But here's the thing: The new textbooks, especially the history books now in use, sweep recent events under the rug, says Davis.

Prof. DAVIS: So there is a kind of historical amnesia in many of these textbooks. Saddam is only referred to from time to time, and where it's necessary, as a dictator. So it's almost as if he didn't exist.

AMOS: That historical gap is what Davis will study in his next round of interviews: How will young Iraqis make sense of Iraq's future or understand the present without an accurate accounting of its past.

Deborah Amos, NPR News.

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