5:00pm

Mon January 3, 2011
Iraq

Wide Gulf Divides Iraqi Youth From Older Generation

Young Iraqis differ from their parents in attitudes on politics, religion and even Saddam Hussein. These are the preliminary findings of a new survey of Iraqi youth, a generation born during a brutal dictatorship that experienced an American invasion and witnessed violent religious extremism, often firsthand.

One thing you notice in Iraq is that it is a very young country: 65 percent of the population is under 25, and they often express themselves in surprising ways.

Take, for example, the band Fatalogy: four young men -- all under 25 -- who gather to play heavy metal music. Their dark lyrics reflect their view of life in Baghdad.

The refrain of the song "Abu Ghraib" -- named after Iraq's infamous prison -- is "War after war is consuming our age / War after war with no limit to rage."

"It's our life. We live in war. We raised on war," says 23-year-old guitarist Humam Ibrahim.

The lyrics "talk about our situation, our society," adds drummer Rafi Sa'ib, 24.

Ibrahim and Sa'ib say heavy metal music is how they express what they see and what they feel.

"I don't want to join anything that relate with the politics here," says Ibrahim.

"It's been seven years, nothing changed; it's getting worse," says Sa'ib.

"I hate politics," Ibrahim adds.

Cynicism Not Surprising; Other Findings Are

This kind of music is unusual in Iraq, but the anger and disillusion among this group of friends, Christians and Muslims, confirm new findings about young Iraqis, says Eric Davis, a political scientist at Rutgers University.

"I would be less than honest if I didn't report that many of these young people are very, very cynical," he says.

Davis has been conducting focus groups across the country, testing attitudes of a generation that sets them apart from their parents. Each group consists of 20 participants, and so far he has conducted three -- in January 2010, divided into 14- to 17-year-olds, 18- to 24-year-olds and 25- to 30-year-olds.

"The interesting thing is that these young people do not maintain strong sectarian identities," Davis notes.

After years of sectarian violence, many young Iraqis fault clerics and political leaders for inciting the hatred that cost so many lives, says Davis.

The preliminary survey reveals another startling attitude among some young Iraqis.

"They actually even reject Islam, because they've come to associate Islam with many of the political figures who have used Islam to promote violence and incite instability for political ends, not for specifically religious ends," he says.

Arkan Mohammed, 30, is a member of Davis' focus group.

"Iraqi young generation is not against Islam as a religion, but they are frustrated as long as the government is controlled by these Islamist parties," he says.

Newfound Freedoms Through The Internet

The youth survey shows a generational divide that extends to other aspects of life, says Davis. Older Iraqis grew up in a closed society under Saddam. For the young, the Internet has opened the door to the world outside.

"What we are seeing here is not just a generational split in the normal sense of the word, but really the opportunity for the younger generation to have access to information that their parents never dreamed of," Davis says.

But in a country with car bombs and kidnappings, the Internet is a consuming escape. The heavy metal musicians, Sa'ib and Ibrahim, say they are on the Internet for 10 hours a day.

"You can say the Internet is [our only] friend," says Sa'ib.

"We can go out, OK, but it's dangerous. [We] can escape from our situation online," says Ibrahim.

This is the generation that will inherit Iraq, says Davis, who is preparing a larger study this year.

"I want to try to move beyond these kinds of initial results, but the other thing I would point out that was disturbing to me -- there is very little historical knowledge," he says.

These youths are living Iraq's turbulent history, but the next textbooks -- especially the history books now in use -- sweep recent events under the rug, says Davis.

"So, there is a kind of historical amnesia in many of these textbooks. So, Saddam is only referred to from time to time, where it's necessary, as a dictator. It's almost as if he didn't exist," Davis says.

That historical gap is what Davis will study in his next round of interviews: how young Iraqis will make sense of Iraq's future or understand the present without an accurate accounting of its past. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.