Karen Dabrowska

Arab Weekly Article

Originally published: 5th February 2016

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Iraqis eye the future of their country in
Whose Peace will it Be?

Whose Peace will it Be? is a string of sound bites of varying lengths from 24 interviewees, which Pien describes as a monologue from people who express same view.

A Whose Peace will it Be? poster.

A Whose Peace will it Be? poster.

London - “The liberation of Iraq?” Sabah al-Mukhtar, the Iraqi president of the Arab Lawyers Association, exclaimed with a cynical laugh when asked about the future of his war-torn country.

“Before occupation [US invasion in 2003], almost every Iraqi village had electricity. Now Baghdad barely has three days of power, investment dropped to almost zero as a result of insecurity and almost 2.5 million children have no schooling.”

Naji Haraj, a former Iraqi diplomat and human rights defender living in Switzerland, describes Iraq as a country without human rights.

“Since occupation and under the successive puppet governments, execution rates in Iraq have reached record numbers. Mass campaigns of arbitrary arrests are the norm under the guise of ‘fighting terrorism’. Peaceful demonstrators are called terrorists and arrested. Disappearances continue to rise and secret prisons are still in use,” he said.

Behnam Keryo, an Iraqi artist and activist living in France, commented: “Geographically Iraq can’t be but tolerant. Every time minorities were persecuted, it was always because of a foreign invasion. Iraq has to quell the invaders and their puppets and recover its very soul.”

Mukhtar, Haraj and Keryo are among 24 Iraqis and a number of Western intellectuals who shared their views about the future of Iraq with Belgian film director and producer Luc Pien in a 61-minute documentary titled Whose Peace will it Be?

In the film, Haifa Zangana, an Iraqi writer and activist living in London, said: “With the aim of creating a compliant population, the occupation forces and local allies attempted to erase cultural heritage and memory, torching libraries, pillaging museums and ancient sites and targeting academics and scientists.”

“Sixty percent of Iraqi writers and artists had to flee the country since 2003. For those who continue to live in Iraq, art and creativity have become either a survival kit or an act of resistance,” she said.

Introducing his film at a London screening at the P21 Gallery, Pien said he wanted to make a documentary in which Iraqis themselves would speak about their problems and state facts about their country. “The things that are stated are facts,” Pien said. “But instead of showing facts through images of killing and destruction, I let people speak… I tried to make the words of people become an image and the beauty and poetry of the words came together.”

The inspiration for the film came from a conference March 2014 in Belgium, grouping intellectuals, artists and activists who denounce the logic of permanent war deployed against the Middle East region. Pien was asked to film the conference organised by the Brussels Tribunal in which Iraq featured prominently.

“Then I wanted to raise awareness about the situation in this country,” Pien said.

Whose Peace will it Be? is a string of sound bites of varying lengths from the 24 interviewees, which Pien describes as a monologue from people who express the same view. Instead of letting participants state their case without interruption, the film moves back and forth between interviewees. The result is a series of powerful and insightful, though disorderly, comments.

In publicity material accompanying the documentary, Pien states that it is not aimed at Middle Eastern specialists. “It is intended for people who want to have a better understanding of the situation on the ground,” he said.

However, background information and a comprehensive historical summary of recent events are sadly lacking. Also absent from Pien’s interviewees were Iraqis from the then-opposition who welcomed the US intervention and Iraqi politicians who were in the government post-2003.

All the interviewees rejected war and were totally opposed to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Their conclusion was that peace is the only solution that will enable Iraqis to solve their problems without outside interference.

While Iraqi academics of the diaspora mused on the need for freedom, education and humanity for the Arab world, Western scholars elaborated how knowledge about and respect for other cultures and people have vanished.

A member of the audience at the London screening congratulated Pien for making the concerted effort to bring Iraqis together to tell their stories.

“For the past 12 years, 90% of the people who spoke about Iraq do not even speak Arabic yet they tell Iraqis how they should solve their problems,” the audience member said. “You presented the real picture. You allowed the real Iraqis to express their views.”