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The Shī'a in Iraqi Novels

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[Throughout the 20 th century, Iraqi novels and novelists played a significant role in the construction of Iraqi national identity. They continue to do so in the first decade of the 21 st century with a proliferation of novels and novelists. The version of national identity that they have propagated considered sectarianism, particularly among the Shī'a , to be totally incompatible with Iraqi national identity. In fact, sectarianism became a code word for the expression of Shī'ī identity and as such has either been ignored by literature or strictly condemned. This article will show how Iraqi novels refrained from touching this extremely sensitive issue—the Shī'a in Iraq—either by not mentioning it at all or by treating it briefly as marginal to the narrative. Although this is still the dominant tone, this article will also show a process of change which started during the 90s with interesting consequences to Shī'ī and Iraqi identities. This change occurred against the background of the extremely violent repression of the Shī'ī Intifada in March 1991, the rising violence in Iraq, the weakening of the (Sunnī) regime, as well as the dispersion of Iraqi literary circles away from Baghdad and the ascendance of a new generation of exile writers. Although the change preceded the upheaval of April 2003, recent events in Iraq have reinforced the trend and the results are novels that are either Shī'ī in a religious sense or strive to integrate Shī'ī tradition into a secular atmosphere., Throughout the 20 th century, Iraqi novels and novelists played a significant role in the construction of Iraqi national identity. They continue to do so in the first decade of the 21 st century with a proliferation of novels and novelists. The version of national identity that they have propagated considered sectarianism, particularly among the Shī'a , to be totally incompatible with Iraqi national identity. In fact, sectarianism became a code word for the expression of Shī'ī identity and as such has either been ignored by literature or strictly condemned. This article will show how Iraqi novels refrained from touching this extremely sensitive issue—the Shī'a in Iraq—either by not mentioning it at all or by treating it briefly as marginal to the narrative. Although this is still the dominant tone, this article will also show a process of change which started during the 90s with interesting consequences to Shī'ī and Iraqi identities. This change occurred against the background of the extremely violent repression of the Shī'ī Intifada in March 1991, the rising violence in Iraq, the weakening of the (Sunnī) regime, as well as the dispersion of Iraqi literary circles away from Baghdad and the ascendance of a new generation of exile writers. Although the change preceded the upheaval of April 2003, recent events in Iraq have reinforced the trend and the results are novels that are either Shī'ī in a religious sense or strive to integrate Shī'ī tradition into a secular atmosphere.]

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/content/journals/10.1163/157006011x603578
2011-12-01
2015-03-03

Affiliations: 1: Haifa

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