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Saddam's Word: political discourse in Iraq

Auteur : Ofra Bengio
Éditeur : Oxford University Press Date & Lieu : 1998, New York
Préface : Pages : 268
Traduction : ISBN : 0-19-511439-6
Langue : AnglaisFormat : 155x235 mm
Code FIKP : Liv. En.Thème : Politique

Table des Matières Introduction Identité PDF
Saddam's Word: political discourse in Iraq

Saddam's Word: political discourse in Iraq

This is the first serious attempt to understand modern Iraq through a close examination of the political discourse used by the Ba'th regime and its leader, Saddam Hussein. Drawing from newspaper articles and official publications, as well as Hussein's public statements, speeches, and writing, Saddam's Word demonstrates how the regime's propaganda defines the range of acceptable public discussion and manipulates history in an attempt to unify diverse and competing ethnic and religious groups.The revival and rewriting of Iraqi and Islamic myth, along with the construction of viable contemporary myths in today's language, are key instruments in the regime's credibility. Its 29-year hold on Iraqi power - unbroken through war, economic disaster, and ethnic strife - can be largely attributed to the subjugation of the media and public discourse to its own ends.

By analyzing political terms, concepts, and idioms as disseminated through the official Iraqi mouthpieces, author Ofra Bengio illuminates Iraq's political culture and the events that these expressions have both reflected and shaped. Bengio succeeds not only in adding another dimension to our understanding of the "Saddam enigma" but also in illustrating the more universal truth that under any regime, political culture is built on the word. Saddam's Word will be of much interest to students and scholars of the contemporary Middle East, to observers of Saddam Hussein and his regime, and to those interested in how a regime maintains power by controlling public discourse.


The Gulf War has turned Saddam Husayn's Iraq into the centerpiece of world attention, yet it remains an enigma. My long years of study of this regime have convinced me that the best way to try to unravel this enigma is not through conventional narrative history but rather through an analysis of political discourse.

This unique approach enables me to present the Ba'th regime's world through its own eyes and voice, thus providing deeper insight into and greater understanding of its political culture, self-images, and guiding myths and, in particular, the making of Saddam Husayn's worldview. The book thus provides a new way to understand the Ba'th's motives, policies, and ultimately its survival for almost three decades in the most difficult circumstances ever experienced by an Arab regime or state.

Saddam's Word draws on a wide range of previously untapped Iraqi sources, notably party documents, pamphlets, newspapers, and books. Another important source is the Qur'an, to which the regime itself has made recourse, especially in its third decade in power. The method ap-plied in the study is interdisciplinary, combining research into the mean¬ing of language, political culture, myth-making, and symbolism while integrating them into the wider context of political and historical developments in Iraq.

The book deals with the five most important overlapping spheres of Iraqi public life: the Ba'th and revolution; the political system and its leader Saddam Husayn; nation-building and ethnic minorities; enemies and wars; and history and Islam. Analyzing these themes through the prism of Iraq's political discourse, the book demonstrates how Saddam Husayn and his regime sought to manipulate language, tradition, and Islam in order to shape Iraqis' minds, mobilize them for his own political purposes, and portray a picture of virtual reality that was a far cry from the genuine one. Finally, the study shows how the regime itself became entrapped by its own totalitarian discourse, which did not allow feedback from the people.

Though a unique case, Ba'thi Iraq can nevertheless be taken as a case study for understanding other totalitarian regimes not only in the Middle East but also in the world at large. Moreover, in addition to expanding our knowledge of the modern Middle East, it demonstrates how the study of culture and semiotics can contribute to our understanding of politics and history.

It is a great pleasure to extend my heartfelt thanks to friends and colleagues who have contributed in many ways to this endeavor. My greatest debt goes to Ami Ayalon, whose expertise and friendship have been the best combination one can find in a guide through the labyrinth of language and political discourse. Asher Susser, the former head of the Moshe Dayan Center, and Martin Kramer, the present head of the center, have made the place my second home. The atmosphere of creativity with which they endowed the center encouraged me to complete the project despite all of the difficulties involved. My colleagues at the center have contributed in many ways through discussion and exchanges of ideas. I am especially indebted to Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, who has been so generous in extend¬ing moral and professional support. Joseph Kostiner read the manuscript and was kind enough to make suggestions for improving it. My friends Ester Levin and Shmuel Regolant enriched me with their creative ideas and thoughts on various subjects.

I wish to thank Lydia Gareh, who typed the manuscript, bringing with her not only technical experience but also deep knowledge of the subject matter. I am also greatly indebted to my assistant, Liat Kozma, who has been my right hand along the tortuous road of preparing the manuscript for press. Haim Gal, of the Moshe Dayan Documentation Center, was extremely helpful in locating the materials for the study. Paula Wald of Oxford University Press and the copyeditor Tim Mennel did an excellent job of preparing the manuscript for publication.

It is said of translators, "Traduttore tradittore." If this is the rule, then Daniel Dishon is certainly an exception to it. I could not find a better and more faithful translator than he. Indeed, his deep knowledge of the history of the Middle East and his expertise as an editor contributed much to the final version. I am extremely grateful to him for the fine job he did.

My home has been all that a woman could desire when working on such an endeavor. My husband Shmuel and my sons Lavi and Adi have been my greatest source of inspiration and support. In fact, they are the principle reason and motivation for my writing this book.

My parents, Adina and Abraham Bassoul, did not live to see my job accomplished, but their spirit certainly guided me throughout. Natives of Aleppo, where they spent much of their lives, they were exposed to four different cultures: Jewish, Turkish, Arab, and French. In their own lives, they proved that cultures need not necessarily clash but can coexist in perfect harmony. It is this message that they have engraved in me since childhood, and to it I dedicate the book.

Tel Aviv - Israel
May 1997
O. B.

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