Thousands of people came to the "I am Iraqi – I read" festival, attracted by plays, singing and cultural events. The city’s liberation from the Islamic State was like a "second rebirth". Fears remain about a possible IS comeback. For this reason, "you hardly see anything relating to the occupation in the arts now," a resident said.
Mosul (AsiaNews) –A book festival was held recently in Mosul park, where the Islamic State (IS) group used to train child soldiers. Once an IS stronghold, the city is putting on shows that attract thousands of people interested in books, many of them donated to the city, as well as plays and concerts.
Arts and culture are back in Iraq’s second largest city, and the "I am Iraqi – I read" festival is just one of many cultural events currently underway. The slogan refers to the traditional Arab saying that "Egypt writes, Lebanon publishes, and Iraq reads".
"We don't value things until we lose them," said Ali al-Baroodi, an English teacher at Mosul University, speaking to Deutsche Welle (DW).
As the city's unofficial chronicler, Mr Baroodi cycled around his liberated hometown taking pictures of the damage and the rebuilding process.
"Last year's liberation of eastern Mosul from Daesh was like a second birthday for me,” he said. Daesh is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.
After years of IS violence and terror, life is back to normal in the city’s eastern sector, and moving around its western districts is much easier.
The big city’s renaissance requires the revival of school, work and the opening of businesses once unthinkable under the "Caliphate". One of them is a book café.
Conditions however are far from ideal in Mosul at present. Difficulties and dangers still stalk the city, like poor sanitation, limited water and power supplies, broken down buildings, not to mention mines and boobytraps that still litter the city, threatening lives and limbs.
Under IS rule, people but also their artistic expressions were threatened. Statues of poets and writers were torn down, works of arts and musical instruments destroyed, and the university library burnt along with many valuable books.
Non-religious books were banned, and musicians and artists killed. The fate of a 15-year-old boy beheaded because he had listened to “western music” is still present in the collective memory.
This all began long before the establishment of the "Caliphate" in the summer of 2014, as far back as the early days of the US occupation in 2003.
"IS like a ghost – you don't see it, but it's there, secretly collecting data on us for when they return," al-Baroodi told DW. "They ruled in the shadows from 2005”.
Marwan Tariq, who teaches Mosul University’s Arts Institute, is more optimistic. "After Daesh, the situation is already better than before they arrived."
However, fears remain about those IS fighters who might have gone underground. "That's why you hardly see anything relating to the occupation in the arts now," Tariq explained.
For now at least, books, music, concerts and street art are back. For example, an oud player gave a concert at an art exhibition and a bass player performing at damaged heritage sites, like the Nouri Mosque.