Baghdad Blues

  • A discourse on Intellectual Laziness

In every discourse there are various narratives. Academicians try hard to explore a dominant narrative that can explain any phenomenon in international relations, foreign policy decisions and in matters of governance. This search for ‘dominant narrative’ keeps journalists, writers, thinkers, activists, policy makers and some section of society on their toes! For the search to finding the truth can eventually bring one section of society close to understanding the reality.

However, the inability of any civilised society to arrive at one, real, objective truth remains a rather elusive idea. It is perhaps because of this that many problems persist. But that’s not all. Our reality is only a version, an interpretation of a certain reality. Hence, this ‘search for objective truth’ can’t ever be conclusive. As soon as consensus is built around an idea, that idea, theory or precedence is set and accepted as that real objective truth.

Most prevalent form of such phenomenon that demands the identification of a dominant narrative is conflict and anarchy, brought on by wars. What is important to understand is that during a war or conflict, apart from the human disaster that is brought upon (which is too large to be ignored) the international relations, foreign policy decisions, and matters of governance also suffer from an equivocal disaster of understanding. This is a disaster when every theory just fails to encapsulate the situation at hand. In the post New World Order world, for every conflict there has been a haste in defining and developing a dominant narrative. This haste has led to a certain ‘intellectual laziness’ as described by Sinan Antoon at a talk titled Baghdad Blues at Lahore Literary Festival.

Sinan, who’s an Iraqi Christian spoke of growing up in the same neighbourhood as Abdul Ahad, a Sunni Muslim. They both remembered that they went to the same school and that their families had always remained close

While academicians will go to any length in ensuring that their work not be labelled as such, it is this intellectual laziness that has brought upon the war of narratives to take firm roots globally. We’ve seen far too many wars being hastened for a label, so the actions taken against these could be successively justified.

Journalist Ghaith Abdul Ahad and writer Sinan Antoon, present at the second day of Lahore Literary Festival 2018, spoke of an entirely different Baghdad. One that wasn’t depicted as such in any of the publications, news broadcast or conferences. They spoke of a Baghdad where the Christians and Muslims (both Sunni and Shia) had always lived together. A Baghdad where people could practice their religion openly and the only problem they faced in the early years leading up to the 2003 Iraq Invasion were the shortages because of trade sanctions. For them the government was bad, much like any authoritarian regime, but not one that was persecuting people on the basis of their ethnicity.

Sinan, who’s an Iraqi Christian spoke of growing up in the same neighbourhood as Abdul Ahad, a Sunni Muslim. They both remembered that they went to the same school and that their families had always remained close in celebrating their different religions. In years after the war they remember being in a state of constant amnesia where their past had completely altered in favour of the western ‘constructed sectarianism’ for which Iraq has become known for.

They out-rightly spoke against this hastened constructed narrative that continues to give legitimacy to western influence in the country. Because this particular narrative of an ‘ethnic war’ has been popularly sold to the masses, the people have grown to believe it too, even though most of the Iraqis have lived a different reality prior to this. This amnesia in a time of total anarchy, and a failed state couple with emerging non state actors has moulded people’s perceptions in favour of Western ‘intellectual laziness’.

We’ve all seen how far and the effects of this ‘intellectual laziness’ can go in damaging a country, and building reconstructive narratives which are dangerous not only for the country undergoing such an anarchy, but also for academicians – for they capture and create a wrong narrative.

The same can be said of other conflicts – perhaps Middle East isn’t a ‘melting point of ethnicities’. Perhaps this ‘institutionalisation of sectarianism’ in international relations is an anarchy of its own, taking the academicians decades back in the progression towards their search for a ‘dominant narrative’.

Reality is interpretive but shouldn’t be plagued by errors of ‘intellectual laziness’.


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