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Free books to spread peace and culture in Iraq

By Ahmad Mousa

BAGHDAD - April 17, 2016

Thousands of people gathered at Abu Nawas Park, overlooking the Tigris, for the fourth annual “I’m Iraqi, I Read” book festival in the capital on Saturday.

The concept behind the book festival is “to encourage people to read and own books, while challenging the many forms of terrorism that have been constraining Baghdad and withholding it from peace, love and coexistence,” said one of the festival organizers and journalist, Emad al-Sharaa.

Around 15 people organize the festival each year, with the help of many volunteers. Most of the event organizers are human rights activists and journalists, al-Sharaa mentioned.

Thousands of free books were spread across tables throughout the park, showcasing a wide variety of genres, and available for people to read and take home. 

“Typically, we announce the date of the festival two to three months in advance,” said al-Sharaa. “And during that time, we gather books from different contributors and donors, like publishers, NGOs, and private libraries.”

The festival held an array of activities, from drawing stations for kids to painting exhibitions. Included was a picnic area for families and friends to read together in the park.

Mazen Jameel, an engineer from Baghdad who attended the festival said: ”What’s nice about this event is the empowering image it gives back to the Iraqi community, gathering people from all backgrounds to support the Iraqi youth,” and “because we notice that Iraqi culture is disappearing day after day, we need to go back to books, to read the beautiful lines written in them and rebuild Iraqi culture again,” he said.

Those interested in e-books were offered an assortment on flash drives. “We prepared laptops at the festival, each with a thousand e-books from different genres, among them 950 in the Arabic and 50 in English,” Mohannad Munjed, from the Iraqi Network for Social Media, said.

“Because of its accessibility, we wanted to make sure to include e-books... to support and encourage the youth to read,” he said.

Not far from Abu Nawas Park, just across the Tigris on the other side of the city, Iraqi MPs voted to remove the parliamentary speaker, while protesters continue to demand reforms at the gates of the heavily protected Green Zone.

“Meters away from where we are, there’s a political crisis among politicians and members of the parliament, but despite all that, we are here... Iraqi life exists in this festival. Iraqis love life and have optimism, and neither politician nor terrorist will change that….” said Aya Mansour, a 24 year-old writer from Baghdad.