If you recall from grade school history class, Iraq is the cradle of civilization. But its people and culture have suffered tremendously under Saddam Hussein. What needs to be done to restore Iraq to its former glory after the dictator is gone? Joseph Braude considers that question in his new book "The New Iraq."
Through personal anecdotes, factual research, folk stories and jokes, Braude paints a picture of what life in Iraq has been like under Saddam, and what the country's people hope for in the future.
"Iraqis are a remarkable creative, resilient and energetic people. These are people that back in 1991, after the bombardment that destroyed, among other things, oil refineries rebuilt one of those refineries on their own, working day and night without electricity," Braude said.
He mentions that Iraq's literacy rate was once as high as 87 percent. "There's every hope given a sustainable and a commitment to re-education and retraining these people can get back on their feet again quickly," he said.
He writes about power in Iraq in reference to the future: namely, how the transition from a single ruling party to a pluralistic government can be achieved in the country's political and spiritual leadership, as well as in its military. "If we can foster a regime that lets opportunity to be shared by a greater number of people, I think the country will be in better shape," he said.
Asked what his dream scenario would be post-Saddam, Braude said, "I can't describe anything we're going to see in the next couple of years as a dream scenario. We're in a war; people are being killed. I believe it's inevitable to see a military government administered by the United States in the short- and perhaps medium-term. I think that the U.S. is committed to moving toward a provisional government and a more representative government that can act on its own."
Braude explains in his book that the rebuilding of Iraq is not solely up to governments; he makes it far more of a personal stake and quest for all Americans. In his prologue, he writes:
"You may not know it yet, but an essential Iraq, with its roots stretching back to the dawn of human civilization, has indelibly shaped your social reality. It bequeathed the bridges you drive on and the tunnels you drive through, the principles of law you adhere to, and many of the religious values and traditions that underlie your beliefs about God. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, much of the world is on a course to reengage Iraq's economy, societies, and peoples, and the transformation will be mutual....This book aims to cast a light on that elusive world.
"Understanding the Iraq of today is a necessary first step in planning to reengage the country in an effort at state building. The project will consume formidable resources from many countries, beginning with the United States, and in this sense it concerns all of us, not just Middle East experts and policy makers. The atomization of Western societies raises concerns that only a few 'Iraq specialists' will be on hand to assist foreign diplomats and soldiers as they engage Iraq in the years ahead. This book aims to help broaden the cast of characters, by attracting professionals, entrepreneurs, a wide variety of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and artists to engage their Iraqi counterparts."
Moreover, Braude suggests that the rebuilding of Iraq can lead to the transformation of the entire Middle East:
"Iraq presents a rare opportunity to take part in a work in progress. Does rebuilding Iraq stand to transform the Middle East? Yes. A viable Iraqi economy will reinvigorate intellectual activity throughout the Arab world by vastly increasing the demand market for Arabic-language books. (Iraqis are considered to be among the region's most voracious readers, and their recent impoverishment has been devastating to publishers.)
"A viable Iraqi economy will alter the region's business ecosystem by resuscitating a battered but formidable consumer market. It will also facilitate the creation of a new industrial base that exports to other countries, as well as the revival of a commercial base of historic importance to its neighbors. Creating a space for the emergence of a religious establishment that fosters ecumenicism will promote ideals of coexistence and tolerance in countries that badly need them. By transforming its military from a force that threatens neighboring states into a twenty-first-century army of nation-building and defense, Iraq can provide a model that strengthens security in the region and reduces bloated military budgets that divert public funds from investment in education, health, and industry.
"A viable Arab government spending less on defense and more on its people will raise expectations among societies vis-à-vis their governments region-wide. This book is a bridge between many audiences. Policy makers need a panoramic view of the social, political, and economic challenges Iraq faces; this book is intended to advance that discussion. For readers in the Arab world, this book reflects one Iraqi American's point of view on new directions for bridging cultural and commercial gaps. For the private sector, this book lays out the major business opportunities Iraq offers, as well as challenges unique to the Iraqi environment. Moreover, the book will demonstrate that effective engagement will mean giving back to Iraqi society at every step of business development. For nongovernmental organizations, the book explains some of the country's many needs, from educational to legal systems, to labor organizing and the development of robust nonprofit social services. Social activists dare not sit out the new Iraq. Their insight and concerns are the best check on the excesses of business and government, and the only hope for the human crises of health, sanitation, and hunger that profit motive and geopolitical calculations alone will be disinclined to meet."
About Joseph Braude
Joseph Braude, 28, is a consultant to governments and corporations on Middle Eastern political, business, and cultural affairs. He is a fluent Arabic, Persian, and Hebrew speaker, and a conversant German speaker.
Born to an Iraqi-Jewish family, Braude studied Near Eastern languages at Yale and Arabic and Islamic history at Princeton. His studies afforded him the opportunity to learn and reside in several Middle Eastern capitals, including Amman, Cairo, Dubai, Riyadh, Tehran, Tel Aviv, and Tunis. Fluent in Arabic, Persian and Hebrew, he is a business consultant to governments and corporations on the Middle East.
Since September 2000, he has resided in Cambridge, Mass, where he works as a Senior Analyst for Pyramid Research, an advisory and consulting firm that specializes in the communications industry.
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