On Removing Pro Baath Books From

On Removing pro-Baath Books from the Libraries in Iraq

At the news on Wednesday that the Debaathification committee in Iraq will remove from university libraries all books positive toward the Baath party, Middle East expert Keith Watenpaugh writes:

“Functionally this decision to “cleanse Iraqi universities and its libraries from the vestiges of the Baath” could lead to the impounding of some of the best research/writing done in the “golden years” of academic activity in Iraq 1972-1980. Most work in that period was vetted by Baathist officials and panegyrics to the party and officials appear at least on the first page, if not sprinkled throughout the text. Those of us who have worked in similar settings are familiar with this phenomenon.

On the other hand, various academic/party apparatchiks wrote/had written for them books and theses of little value beyond revealing how thoroughly the party had poisoned academic life in the period of the Iran-Iraq war and the later sanctions. The (contemporary) Bayt al-Hikma was an institution created primarily for this purpose. It’s unlikely these would be much missed.

It strikes me that this will constitute part of a larger project, and may merely be prelude to a purge of Iraq’s academic community of groups/individuals who may be judged problematic to the current Iraqi leadership or parts thereof. Those deemed “problematic” may merely be non-Muslims/ non-Shiite Muslims or those not inclined towards Iran with sufficient enthusiasm or who oppose/favor the American presence. Flavor of the moment – take your pick.”

Keith David Watenpaugh is author of Being Modern in the Middle East (Princeton: 2006).

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