What We Are Reading Today: State of Repression — Iraq Under Saddam Hussein

Updated 13 July 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: State of Repression — Iraq Under Saddam Hussein

  • In her book in State of Repression, Lisa Blaydes challenges this belief by showing that the country’s breakdown was far from inevitable.  

How did Iraq become one of the most repressive dictatorships of the late twentieth century? The conventional wisdom about Iraq’s modern political history is that the country was doomed by its diverse social fabric. But in State of Repression, Lisa Blaydes challenges this belief by showing that the country’s breakdown was far from inevitable.  

Drawing on archival material captured from the headquarters of Saddam Hussein’s ruling Ba’th Party in the wake of the 2003 US invasion, Blaydes illuminates the complexities of political life in Iraq, including why certain Iraqis chose to collaborate with the regime while others worked to undermine it, says a review on the Princeton University Press website.

She demonstrates that, despite the Ba’thist regime’s pretensions to political hegemony, its frequent reliance on collective punishment of various groups reinforced and cemented identity divisions.

At the same time, a series of costly external shocks to the economy—resulting from fluctuations in oil prices and Iraq’s war with Iran—weakened the capacity of the regime to monitor, co-opt, coerce, and control factions of Iraqi society.

In addition to calling into question the common story of modern Iraqi politics, State of Repression offers a new explanation of why and how dictators repress their people in ways that can inadvertently strengthen regime opponents.


BOOK REVIEW: Nine Palestinian refugees tell Shatila’s stories in this innovative book

Updated 17 July 2018
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BOOK REVIEW: Nine Palestinian refugees tell Shatila’s stories in this innovative book

  • “Shatila Stories” is a collaborative work of fiction written by nine refugees from the Shatila camp in Beirut

CHICAGO: A novel born in extraordinary circumstances, “Shatila Stories” is a collaborative work of fiction written by nine refugees from the Shatila camp in Beirut that was commissioned by Peirene Press.

The authors, ranging from the ages of 20 to 43, captivate the reader by painting a picture of muddied walkways, crumbling walls and desperate faces.

From beginning to end, the phenomenal words of Omar Khaled Ahmad, Nibal Alalo, Safa Khaled Algharbaqi, Omar Abdellatif Alndaf, Rayan Mohamad Sukkar, Safiya Badran, Fatima Omar Ghazawi, Samih Mahmoud and Hiba Mareb take the reader on a powerful journey. 

“Shatila Stories” begins with the character of Reham, who is leaving Damascus for Beirut. She and her family look to Shatila as a refuge from the strife at the Yarmouk camp in Syria. Reham’s story is embedded in spirituality and faith, a strength that drives many of the book’s characters. After Reham, the reader is told the story of Jafra, named after the revolutionary Palestinian fighter who was killed in an airstrike in 1976. 

Evil lurks within the boundaries of the Shatila camp — children are exploited, disease is rampant and the methods used to safeguard residents are sometimes more harmful than helpful.

The writers have done a brilliant job of conveying the constricted yet vibrant lives led by many in the camp, as they wander alleyways that are “narrow yet wide enough to hold a thousand stories.”

The effort to publish nine refugee writers began with Mieke Ziervogel, publisher of Peirene Press, who journeyed from London to Beirut with editor Suhir Helal after getting in contact with an NGO that runs a community center in the camp. 

After handpicking the writers during a three-day workshop, the manuscripts were received and translator Nasha Gowanlock got to work. It was a Herculean effort that reminds us that storytelling may be an art, but everyone has a story to tell.