Monday, March 12, 2007

Mohammed Hayawi

Anthony Shadid of The Washington Post has written an important article on the life of the Iraqi bookseller, Mohammed Hayawi: "The Bookseller's Story, Ending Much Too Soon". Shadid accounts for what was lost, for the vibrant and thoughtful man whose Renaissance Bookstore embodied the open, intellectual spirit of of Baghdad's Mutanabi Street. He died in the recent bombing that destroyed the famed bookseller's market.

"The American promises to Iraq are like trying to hold water in your hand," he told me in one conversation. "It spills through your fingers."

But he was never strident; he was filled with a thoughtfulness and reflection that survival in Iraq rarely permits these days.

Hayawi resented the occupation but voted in the elections the United States backed. He was a devout Muslim, but feared the rise of religion in politics. In his bookstore, once-banned titles by Shiite clerics, imported from Iran, vied with books by radical Sunni clerics, among them Muhammad Abdel-Wahab, the 18th-century godfather of Saudi Arabia's brand of Islam. Profit may have inspired his eclectic mix, but Hayawi also seemed to be making a statement: Mutanabi Street, his Baghdad and his Iraq would respect their diversity.

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