“Speaking Truth to Power?” Intellectuals in Iraqi Baathist Cultural Production


  • Leslie Tramontini Marburg University




Iraqi Intellectuals, Cultural Production, Power


How free can intellectuals (writers, poets, and artists) continue to exist in a political system that exercises a huge amount of pressure, control, and censorship, forcing them to conform to its heavily skewed ideological and historical perspectives? The core question of a dispute among Iraqi intellectuals since 2003 has been: Who has the right to speak for Iraq? This question underlines the need to delve deeper; it touches upon the urgency of re-examining the political and cultural dynamics of Baathist rule, the cultural institutions of which provided a restrictive framework within an overall atmosphere of intimidation, control, and surveillance. During this time, Iraqi intellectuals took on various attitudes, varying from compliance and collaboration, to resistance to the system or outright exile. The rift between Iraqi intellectuals is mostly between those on the "inside" and those on the "outside." This paper discusses the relationship between intellectuals and power and the peculiarities of Iraqi cultural production in Baathist times, and then analyses the role of intellectuals through two case studies, debating the strategies of survival and complicity.


Leslie Tramontini, Marburg University

works at the Center for Near and Middle Eastern Studies at Marburg University. She wrote her PhD thesis on modern Iraqi poetry (Münster University) and has worked in the Middle East for 17 years (Iraq, Kuwait, the UAE, Saudi-Arabia, Iran, and Lebanon). She is co-editor of the volume Conflicting Narratives. War, Trauma and Memory in Iraqi Culture, as well as the encyclopedia Crosshatching in Global Culture and its Arabic version Aʿlām al-adab al-ʿarabī al-muʿāṣir (will appear in 2013). Besides working in the academic field, she translates Arabic poetry into German.





Tramontini, L. „“Speaking Truth to Power?” Intellectuals in Iraqi Baathist Cultural Production“. Middle East - Topics & Arguments, Bd. 1, Mai 2013, S. 53-61, doi:10.17192/meta.2013.1.1041.