In a rare scene, thousands of books and CDs were lined up in Abu Nawas park overlooking the Tigris River in Baghdad. People gathered there, as they read and picked any book they desired for free.
It was the Iraqi Reading Festival, known as the “I’m Iraqi, I read books” festival, which successfully celebrated its third anniversary on Oct 4. Men, women and entire families attended the festival, where they browsed among the books and enjoyed reading. The children rallied around children’s books, joyfully picking them for an Eid gift.
The festival’s idea was conceived of three years ago and was intended to be held for one day as a reminder of the importance of books. Yet, the Iraqis’ great interest in books prompted the festival’s organizers to hold this event every year, said Ahmed Abdul Hussein, one of the organizers, in a phone interview with Al-Monitor.
However, the festival was different this year from previous years, held while the country was undergoing a violent terrorist war, which has posed a great challenge for the festival organizers.
In a phone interview with Al-Monitor, Bassam Abdul Razzaq, an activist and one of the organizers explained that this year the festival is an event that challenges terrorism. The Iraqis are holding the book in the face of terrorism. Razzaq described the thousands of people who attended the festival as “an army of readers that is backing up the armed forces, which are fighting against the Islamic State on the fronts right now.”
Many Iraqis believe that terrorism is the product of a warped and obscurantist idea that finds a foothold in the Arab and Islamic communities. The thousands of people who attended the festival under these difficult circumstances probably confirm this impression, as they were in a real atmosphere of celebration. Razzaq explained that the goal of the festival is enlightenment.