Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Scarred Bookstalls

A single flower lies upon a large pile of rubble in M_______ Street. Four days ago this was one of the few neighborhoods in Baghdad untouched by the war, a warren of cafes, bookstores, and small restaurants. Some considered it the intellectual heart of the nation; others, the soul of Baghdad. Old men smoked tobacco and sipped their tea, watching the passers by through the large plate glass windows. Businessmen searched the newsstands for the latest Gulf News, while students from the university haunted the foreign sections of the bookstalls, as likely pursuing a work of French poetry, or even the Bible, as one of the ubiquitous Islamic religious tracts. It was the one place where a love of books and learning was worth more than whether someone’s great grandfather was a Shiite or a Sunni.

I suppose it was inevitable that the war would come to here too. War does not respect books, or learning. Or aspirations to become something better. When the car exploded it annihilated twenty-four people in an instant, including the driver, his passenger, a bookseller, six students, and a father with his son who just happened to be passing by. Six more later died of their wounds. Now the police, the fire trucks, the screeching ambulances, even the street cleaners with their hoses, are all gone. Only the blackened façades of the empty bookstores remain; their wares ripped and burnt. The crater is eight feet deep. I fear the scar runs deeper.


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