Iraq arts fest more words less song and dance


first_img Think Tank analyzes the second round of Democratic debates Associated PressBABYLON, Iraq (AP) – Poetry has returned to the Triangle of Death. But dancing and singing are being left behind.In this dusty southern community, home to the renowned archaeological site of Babylon and ravaged by modern-day sectarian fighting, Iraqi officials are trying to bring back normalcy by reviving a spring cultural festival that drew hundreds of thousands of people in its heyday.But in a country where few topics are untouched by sectarian or political tensions as the new democracy grapples with an uncertain future, even the past week’s feel-good festival of books, paintings and poetry readings is beset by controversy. Top Stories New high school in Mesa lets students pick career paths (Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.) Early signs of cataracts in your parents and how to help Sponsored Stories Ali al-Shallah, a Shiite legislator overseeing the event from Hillah, rejected the widely held belief that religious hard-liners killed the fun. He said the intent was to contrast it from those held by Iraq’s ousted, hanged dictator.“During Saddam’s time, the Babylon festival and its singing and dancing shows were designed to serve the political and propaganda agendas of the regime. That is over,” he said.“Right from the beginning, the plan was to hold a cultural and intellectual festival that is totally different from the typical image in people’s minds about the Babylon festival,” he said.After the 2003 invasion of Iraq and Saddam’s ouster, the region around Babylon and Hillah was so notorious for sectarian violence it was called the Triangle of Death. The triangle actually refers to three mostly Sunni cities just north of Hillah that were controlled by al-Qaida during the darkest days of the war. But Hillah, mostly Shiite and just a half-hour’s drive away, was a prime target.Even now deadly bombings are common, and in February, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki warned that al-Qaida was still active here.In 2010, after security improved, Mansour al-Manie, deputy chairman of the provincial council, tried to revive the festival but got a lukewarm public response, he said, “because of the religious pressures.” How men can have a healthy 2019center_img What’s missing are the traditional singing and dancing acts of past festivals. The intent, say organizers, is to distinguish the reborn Babylon festival from its Saddam Hussein-era ancestors. But it also seems to reflect the distaste of a recently empowered religious establishment for public singing and dancing.Many Iraqis wistfully recall the festivals of yore, and the excitement and sheer fun of the music. But this year, cabdriver Thamir Hassan finds the event stodgy and elitist.“Ordinary people like me tried to seek joy and happiness in the festival activities, but we found only artists and intellectuals talking about things that are related to themselves only,” said Hassan, 32, from Hillah, one of the towns hosting the festival.“It’s a total failure,” he complained. “The ordinary people are tired by the hardships of life, and they want a break, and they do not want to see poets and artists discussing their work.”Under Saddam, the festival would headline famous singers and dancers from Iraq and across the Arab world, Russia and Europe. Poetry readings and arts exhibits also were offered, but live song and dance were the main attraction. “This festival is a successful one because it shows that Iraq is still a cultural center,” said Mohammed Abdul-Hussein, a 35-year-old teacher who attended a lecture on Iraq’s ancient civilizations. He said it “deals with educational and intellectual activities _ away from the atmosphere of noisy songs and immoral dancing.”___Associated Press Writers Bushra Juhi in Babylon and Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad contributed to this report. Follow Lara Jakes on Twitter at” alt=”last_img” />

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