Secularists, Islamists Clash In Iraqi Culture War Iraq's political battles have subsided with the formation of a new government. But the country's culture war continues unabated as the Islamist political parties fight secular Iraqis, long part of the country's social fabric. It is a struggle to define the country's identity.

Secularists, Islamists Clash In Iraqi Culture War

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And we begin this hour in Iraq. The country's political battles have subsided for the moment with the announcement of a new government approved by Parliament this week, but the country's culture war rages on. The fight is between religious political parties - the Islamists - against secular Iraqis, long part of the country's social fabric. It's a struggle to define the country's identity, as NPR's Deborah Amos reports from Baghdad.

DEBORAH AMOS: We're driving through the streets of Baghdad on a hunt for billboards.

NEZAR HUSSEIN: This is another one saying: Baghdad won't be Kandahar.

AMOS: Nezar Hussein, a filmmaker, is the guide. The billboard project, hundreds of billboards appeared unannounced across the city a few days ago. Here on one of the major avenues of the capital, we find many samples with a campaign slogan: liberty first, spelled out in black and white.

HUSSEIN: It says religion for God and country for everybody.

AMOS: It's a big white poster with black Arabic script. It's really simple. It's just a simple little message.

HUSSEIN: Yeah. It's simple because it's like this. It doesn't have to be complicated.

AMOS: Is that unusual in Iraq to see...

HUSSEIN: It's the first time, actually, the first time to see such kind of campaigns in Baghdad.

AMOS: For the first time, Iraq's secular community is feeling strong enough to fight back in public against what it sees as religious excess.

HUSSEIN: I guess it's important to send a message to them. Even simple - that we can say no.

AMOS: The message reflects the growing alarm over recent measures to banish music and dance from the curriculum at Baghdad's Fine Arts Academy, remove statues at the college deemed indecent, shut an annual arts festival in Babylon and an international circus in Basra.

MAYSOON AL: This kind of attempt give serious and dangerous signs.

AMOS: That's Maysoon al-Damluji with Iraqiya, a political party that ran on a secular agenda.

AL: Iraqis are Muslims. There's no doubt. I mean, they're the vast majority, but they don't like to have religion imposed on them.

AMOS: While some Iraqis ask just who is trying to impose conservative Islamic codes, Damluji sees Iran's hand in the recent crackdown.

AL: I think this is all flexing of muscles by neighboring countries who are taking advantage of the withdrawal of the American troops and trying to show that they are in charge of Iraqi politics.


AMOS: Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: This collection of Iraq's most famous artists come to recite bawdy poetry...


AMOS: Qasim Sabti, the gallery owner, presides over this dedicated group of secularists who want to fight for the soul of the country.

QASIM SABTI: We know it's fighting between the religious foolish man against the civilization man. We know that we're fighting like Gandhi, and this is a new language in Iraqi life because just we have no guns. We are, you know, really, we are not believe in this kind of fighting.

AMOS: As the evening call to prayer rings out from the neighborhood mosque, a quiet song begins...


AMOS: Deborah Amos, NPR News.

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