“We are a society that does not admit its mistakes,” says Yahya Ibrahim Khthaer, the director of a new play, Death of a Stubborn Citizen, about to be staged in Baghdad. It’s a particularly pertinent idea at the moment, given that Iraq seems to be sliding back into the kind of violent sectarian conflict that killed so many Iraqis between 2006 and 2008. The surge in violence appears inexorable – yet, having been through so much, most ordinary Iraqis say they just want to live their lives in peace.
“The idea of this play is to give a picture of Iraqi society and all that it has gone through, over the past 60 years,” Khthaer explains. “The play tries to address the clichéd idea that as a society, we don’t address past mistakes. As a society we are scared to look back. But we should acknowledge that fear [of our own history] in order to be truly aware.”
The play will open in Baghdad’s Muntada Al Masrah theatre, part of the National Theatre. After several shows in Baghdad, the play will tour Europe and Egypt, with shows planned in Berlin, Marseille, Alexandria and Cairo.
The production is also part of a larger undertaking called Stamba, which is all about encouraging better relationships between European and Middle Eastern cultures and dispersing the cultural clichés each group has about the other. After the Baghdad play premieres there will be other arts events and workshops in Egypt, Germany and France too; the whole project was set up by German arts manager, Hella Mewis.
“Stampa tries to navigate the changes within people, the way they think about the events in their own country and their need to learn how to change,” Mewis explains. “Because change is possible.”
“Europeans mostly know about Iraq through the news – all about violence and bombings,” Mewis continues. But, she says, it’s important not to “just accept the stereotype rooted in our subconscious about other societies.”