On Democracy by Saddam Hussein
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In 2003, after returning from a month-long stay in Baghdad, American artist Paul Chan was given a gift from a colleague in the human-rights group Voices of the Wilderness: a copy of three speeches on democracy written by Saddam Hussein in the 1970s, before he became president of Iraq. The speeches, compiled here for the first time in English, are politically perverse, yet eerily familiar. The then vice president of Iraq characterizes social democracy as demanding authority, and defines free will as the patriotic duty to uphold the good of the state. This volume takes the speeches as an opportunity to ask what democracy means from the standpoint of a notorious political figure who was anything but democratic, and to reflect on how promises of freedom and security can mask the reality of repressive regimes. With drawings by Paul Chan, including a new suite in its entirety, and essays by Bidoun’s Negar Azimi, philosopher and artist Nickolas Calabrese and journalist Jeff Severns Guntzel, this book is the perfect addition for anyone questioning the scope of any democratic country’s political system.
About the contributors
NEGAR AZIMI is senior editor of Bidoun magazine. She has written for Artforum, Frieze, Harper’s, and The New York Times Magazine, among other venues. She sits on the boards of the Beirut-based Arab Image Foundation, and Artists Space in New York.
NICKOLAS CALABRESE is an artist and writer who lives and works in New York. He is currently working on a project exploring the relationship of trolling to art and philosophy.
PAUL CHAN is an artist who lives and works in New York. Recent exhibitions include dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, 2012; Before The Law, Ludwig Museum, Cologne, 2011–12; and Making Worlds, 53rd Venice Biennale, Venice, 2009.
JEFF SEVERNS GUNTZEL has reported from the Middle East and the US as a staff writer for National Catholic Reporter and Village Voice Media. He was a contributing editor at Punk Planet magazine and senior editor at Utne Reader. Before journalism, he spent years doing humanitarian work in prewar Iraq. Electronic Iraq, a website he co-founded in 2003 to document the Iraqi experience of war, is archived in the Library of Congress and the British Library.
This book provides context for the thoughts of a misguided and narcissistic man. It bring a fresh examination to the idealism and naive aspirations that fueled the cruel and narcissistic acts of violence conducted under Hussein's regime. Paul Chan's artwork is particularly gripping. the interplay between sparse charcoal drawings and tactile objects is haunting, and gives the book a uniquely moving quality.
The fact that this book is a compilation of Hussein's speeches on democratic freedom - a topic on the polar end of the spectrum from his political persona - goes to show how compelling of a read this is. Very interesting - highly recommended.