Iraq’s Broken Culture

This week marks the sixth anniversary of the coalition of the willing’s invasion of Iraq. Because American mainstream news headlines continue to trumpet, “The sky is falling!” vis-à-vis the economy, the anniversary of an immoral occupation is one that will pass quietly into the night. There will be no talk on American televisions of the million-plus slain Iraqi citizens, and no talk of the glum morale of American troops as they slog away in a conflict with seemingly no end in sight.

There are no victors in such a war – only victims. As I say in my song, Forever War, “They tell us it will last /About a hundred years/ We never count their casualties/And we sure can’t measure tears/No, we can’t measure tears.”

Although the mainstream media choose not to remind us of our ongoing conflicts in foreign lands, artists will – and do – all the time. Often, though, the works of first-rate artists fail to see the light of day, or are quashed just as soon as they are released.

Art is our primary way to get the truth out about the world, to the world. Whether it’s in the form of a song, book, film, painting, or other creative effort, an authentic work of art can transcend time because it is truth personified.

George Santayana: “An artist is a dreamer consenting to dream of the actual world.”

Author and intrepid journalist Dahr Jamail’s “The Ongoing Occupation of Iraqi Artists,” examines how the culture of Iraq has been decimated, with bombs as well as censorship. Iraqi artists believe they are no longer free to produce or to display their works. They exist in a virtual underground, biding their time and waiting for circumstances to change. They are not alone.

Artists around the world experience similar creative constraints, though this phenomenon is not of recent origin. Just ask any artist, filmmaker, or musician with a controversial work of art, and he’ll explain to you just how the system works.

A film starring then-box office superstars Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland, FTA, mysteriously disappeared from theaters back in 1972. Why? Perhaps FTA was pulled from movie houses after only one week because the film depicted the rebellion against the Vietnam War from inside the military.

Says filmmaker David Zeiger: “Francine Parker, who directed FTA, swore to me a couple of years ago that Sam Arkoff, the enigmatic head of American International Pictures, which was distributing the film, told her he had received a threatening phone call from the White House – and that is why he pulled the film.”

Sometimes a work of art contains so much truth that it becomes menacing to the status quo. When does the artist become a patriot?

Culture Creation and Desecration

Radio host and researcher Alan Watt refers to manipulation in the arts and media as “culture creation.” Culture creation is why you are presented with “Dancing with the Stars” instead of the Bolshoi Ballet, and why you are bombarded with Britney Spears instead of, say, Leslie Ritter, who sings truth with the dulcet tones of an angel.

Argues Watt, certain artists are thrust into the limelight in order to not so subtly shift the artistic perceptions of millions. Think back to the Beatles phenomenon, and how that one music band transfixed and transformed American culture forever.

Supported and guided by powerful media heads and influential publicists, artists of all genres are tapped to control the artistic perceptions of the public, even as the masses think they are being presented with a vast array of creative choices.

Ever wonder why the modern artworks in public places are devoid of beauty? Most are representative of the coldness and heartlessness of contemporary life: twisted metal structures of dubious value, displayed as though they were the latest works of Michelangelo. If you dare to question the truthfulness of such art, you risk being branded a rank amateur. And so it goes.

In Iraq, you might say they have experienced a “culture desecration.” As Ahmed Fadaam, an Iraqi sculptor and professor laments in Jamail’s article, “The occupation forces encouraged the rebels to loot museums and libraries. Five thousand years of history and art were irretrievably lost in hours. It is a loss for the world, not Iraq alone.”
Reporter Jamail elaborates, “I realized the extent of devastation caused by the invasion and occupation of Iraq goes beyond loss of life, livelihood and property. The historical and cultural roots of the nation have been wrecked.”

The people of Iraq were the victims of culture desecration, where priceless artworks, from ancient buildings to irreplaceable antiquities were wiped out for all time. Take culture away from a nation, and you also take away a part of its soul.

Jawaharlal Nehru: “The art of a people is the true mirror to their minds.”

Authentic, truthful art has enormous power to influence and to change. Those artists who are brave enough to create works that candidly describe the world deserve to disseminate their art for all to enjoy.

The Iraqi people were not so fortunate. The beloved art of Iraq has, for the most part, been obliterated. Iraqis stand, six years after the onset of the occupation, in the midst of a broken culture that could take a century to mend.

KATHY SANBORN is an author, journalist, and recording artist with a new CD, Peaceful Sounds, now a top seller on CDBaby. Listen to clips of her songs, including “Forever War,” and buy the album now at


KATHY SANBORN is an author, journalist, and recording artist with a new CD, Peaceful Sounds, now a top seller on CDBaby. Listen to clips of her songs, including “Forever War,” and buy the album now at