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IRAQ: The teaching of history



Tom Grey has sent me a piece by the Iraqi poet Awad Nasir praising the liberation of his country by US and UK troops. Here is an extract: "Believe it or not, Iraqis of all faiths, ethnic backgrounds and political persuasions were liberated by young men and women who came from the other side of the world--from California and Wyoming, from New York, Glasgow, London, Sydney and Gdansk to risk their lives, and for some to die, so that my people can live in dignity. The U.S. and its allies should not listen to those who wished to maintain Saddam in power and who, now that he's gone, are trying to find a clone to put on a throne in Baghdad. Those who are urging the coalition to leave Iraq as soon as possible wish none of us any good. A precipitate departure could trigger intervention by Iraq's predatory neighbors and foment civil war"

RH: That makes sense. but unfortunately most Iraqis are more confused, and this takes us back to our history textbook project. Suddenly teachers are told to change the teaching of history. The problem is described in "Rewriting history--and more. Baghdad schools reopen, and teachers try to figure out just what to teach" (U.S. News & World Report, 12/5/03).The dilemma is such that some history teachers avoid the problem by talking about Ali Baba and the 40 thieves. The popular story tells how thieves stash their treasure in a secret cave. Ali Baba sees them doing it and learns their password for opening it; "Open sesame", and he makes off with the gold himself. The thieves try to kill Ali Baba, but are foiled by his slave, a woman called Morgana, who finds them hiding in huge jars,

Such stories are often told as allegories for current events. How should the story be interpreted. Is the gold oil? Is Ali Baba the US? Are the 40 thieves Saddam Hussein and his gang, hiding from the US? Is Morgana the US army? Don't say it is just a story. Even Alice in Wonderland has been subjected to interpretations. What moral do we learn from Ali Baba? Above all, we would like to know about the new history books to be used in Iraqi schools. Have they been prepared already, or is this a problem no one has thought about?

Ronald Hilton - 5/9/03


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