Mobilizing the mind of the child

Publishing children’s books is changing in Iraq. Yet the goal remains molding young minds. It’s just a different mold. The Christian Science Monitor reports from Iraqi Children’s Cultural House, which publishes children’s books and magazines:

The issue of Muzmar that coincided with the 2002 presidential referendum may be the most extreme example of the youth-oriented propaganda machine at work. The cover features a drawing of smiling children holding a sign that says “Yes, Yes to Daddy Saddam!” while their parents vote in the foreground. Inside are a biography of Hussein, an article describing the “1.5 million love letters” written to the president by the Iraqi people, and a two-page testimonial from Cultural House employees recalling their own joyous voting experiences.

“The work of the writers was forced in this direction,” says veteran children’s writer Muhammed Jabar Hassan. “The previous production was geared toward mobilizing and militarizing the mind of the child to serve the regime.”

As for the actual consumers of the Cultural House’s product – the children of Iraq – it’s unclear just what kind of long-lasting effect this youth propaganda had on them.

Ava Nadir, a former United Nations staff member, recalls her entire high school class being brought out into the streets to cheer for Hussein one day. Despite being raised in an anti-Hussein household, she found herself cheering and clapping along with her classmates as the presidential convoy passed.

Still, she doesn’t believe that all the “Daddy Saddam” stuff produced generations of brainwashed kids.

Ms. Nadir says the real effect was to teach Iraqi children from a very young age how to fake loyalty while hiding their true feelings.

“That’s why in the Iraqi personality there is no transparency,” she says. “You live two lives. One at home where you can talk – and maybe sometimes you cannot even talk – and a different life when you go out. You have to wear a different mask.”

The Cultural House’s first post-Saddam book, “Nur and the Rainbow,” promotes unity among Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and Turkmen.

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  1. Are there any Arabic, Farsi, or Korean editions
    of “Yertle the Turtle” ?

    Shouldn’t there be?

    One the most subversive pieces of literature I’ve ever encountered …

  2. PJ/Maryland says:

    Pouncer, I agree with you, but doubt there are translations in any of those languages. This page says Seuss books were translated into “at least 18 languages”, but when I visit the Seussville site, I only found two books in Spanish, and they are both “The Cat in the Hat” (one is a dictionary, the other seems to be the story).

    Since rhyme and rhythm are so important in Seuss books, it seems to me that writing a translation is probably more work than writing an original story in the same style. Maybe we can find an Iraqi (Iranian, Korean) author who can write similar fun stories with subversive messages.

    For those of you not familiar with the Yertle story, it’s here. Yertle gets all the other turtles to stack themselves up so he can see (and rule) further.

    Then Yertle the Turtle was perched up so high,
    He could see forty miles from his throne in the sky!

    But eventually a “plain little turtle” named Mack gets tired of being squashed and burps, causing Yertle to crash back to earth.

    Well, that was the end of the Turtle King’s rule!
    For Yertle, the King of all Sala-ma-Sond,
    Fell off his high throne and fell Plunk! in the pond!

    And today the great Yertle, that Marvelous he,
    Is King of the Mud. That is all he can see.
    And the turtles, of course… all the turtles are free
    As turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be.

  3. Eric Jablow says:

    What books should be translated into Arabic and Kurdish to be sent to Iraq (and later Iran, I hope)?
    Besides basic textbooks, what fiction should we send or sell there? What history books?