Iraq: The Beats and the Bedouins

By Hussein Al-alak

I was recently reading the Selected Letters of Jack Kerouac, when a number of thoughts crossed my mind, about the amazing and unique characters, which made up the American Beat Generation.

What was striking about the letters from the king of this movement, was the yearning to learn from the experience of travel, where the concept of being part of the journey, was about igniting the imagination for participation and adventure.

Unlike conventional tourists, who point at foreign objects and people, Kerouac and the beat generation were declaring a call to arms, whereby encouraging people to throw off the shackles of boundary and to see themselves as being part of a much bigger world.

Few authors have captivated the minds of readers, or given the urge to abandon the drudgery of normality, as you get when reading the last sentence of Kerouac’s On the Road.

It’s one book where at the end, the reader is left wanting to do and see more.

The legacy of the Beat movement can often be found among many travel writers, musicians and even the blog scene, where there is art work, articles, video’s and pictures, which give a unique perspective that is often lacking in the mainstream.

After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, day to day accounts of what was taking place, did not come from left or right wing journalists but from ordinary Iraqi writers, who in a style echoing the Beat Generation, gave outsiders a unique insight, which was lacking in both Britain and the United States.

I always found it ironic, while the Western media was being saturated with “freedom, democracy and human rights”, Iraqi bloggers were talking about history, culture, national and regional politics, sociology and they even introduced Westerners to the famous al-Mutanabbi Street.

Al-Mutanabbi Street is the historic centre of Baghdad bookselling, holds bookstores and outdoor bookstalls, cafes and even tobacco shops. It has been the heart and soul of the Baghdad literary and intellectual community for years.

Iraqi bloggers were also allot like the Beat Generation, the establishment hated them and journalists feared them.

The reasons for this, is because Iraqi bloggers were telling people what was taking place, while journalists were left having to read reports of conversations, which potentially scooped their papers headline.

What these men and women brought to us, was more than just gossip. It was an insight into a world which had been isolated since the first Gulf War.

There were stories which invoked the smell of spices, the taste of mint tea, the ripeness of fruit, laughter at family gatherings and fishing from the rivers Tigris and Euphrates.

Iraqi blogger’s also introduced people to the diversity of the Arab world, by reporting on the various accents of Arabic, the destruction of festive holiday’s and families by religious fundamentalists.

They detailed the desecration of ancient sights and monuments and spoke of the struggle that Iraqi refugee’s encountered, on their journey’s throughout the region.

It was Jack Kerouac who stated; “The best teacher is experience and not through someone’s distorted point of view”, which is the only way to describe Iraq, if anyone is still wanting to learn.

But one thing the Iraqi blogger’s, who emerged after 2003 did prove, is that “great things are not accomplished, by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.”

– Hussein Al-alak is affiliated with the Iraq Solidarity Campaign. He contributed this article to

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