The State Department Gets Musicians Together in Iraq
Jane Arraf’s cover story (on the now-weekly Monitor paper edition that just came out) tracks the lives of two Iraqi friends she has known throughout her tenure as the longest-serving Western correspondent in Baghdad, and how their lives have changed.
She tells of the contradictions of a vibrant, Saddam-era Baghdad “aware of its unique place in history”, the free-seeming days following the US invasion, the horror that followed, and the current contradictions which face both Iraqis, journalists, and those who are in both categories.
It is not a story of a bombing or any particular such event that will make headlines. It is as close to the “real” story of Iraqis as one is likely to get (if there is such a thing) – about change and adaptation over time, while one’s city and culture go crazy around them. Many watched this happen behind them, if they fled Iraq, as is the case with an Iraqi journalist named Nermeen, a friend of Arraf’s from the old Baghdad.
I knew dozens of Americans and Iraqis who died in this war. For Nermeen, it numbers in the hundreds. The challenge is to find meaning in it. On a recent day, I went with her to her apartment on Baghdad's Haifa Street, scene of some of the worst fighting in the war. She has only been back here four times in three years after moving to the relative safety of her parents' Kirkuk house.Stateside
"Welcome to my dusty home," she says, her high-heeled boots clicking on the parquet, coated in a layer of fine sand. The kitchen window has shrapnel holes. Seeing Nermeen again is like having a part of my life back – a part I'd lost while covering the war embedded with the US Army and Marines.
Kim Thai of USA Today covers a State Department program called Musical Overtures, a cultural exchange program which sends American musicians to other countries, and vice versa. An effort is being made to include Iraq and Afghanistan. The experiences of an American pianist who found that, music really did function as a universal language, and that he and Iraqi musicians could work cooperate while belting out some Duke Ellington.
Funding for the State Department bureau that runs Musical Overtures and other cultural programs expanded dramatically under President George W. Bush, from $900,000 to $10 million in 2008. The budget for 2009 is at $8.5 million.New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has spoken of the need for such cultural exchanges as part of the Obama administration's emphasis on "smart power" — using non-military means as a way to expand American influence.
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