Conjuring old dreams to imagine new futures; oral histories of Iraqi refugees and exiles

By Yousef Baker
Submitted to Session P4939 (Representations of Struggle and Horizons of Freedom, 2017 Annual Meeting
Diaspora/Refugee Studies;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
How do the transnational consequences of political trauma alter individual political subjectivity and perceptions of political agency? How can one continue to dream and hope if old dreams were consistently crushed, neglected, or disciplined?

This paper will consider these questions by examining oral histories of refugees and political exiles from Iraq. Their narratives speak of three Iraqs. The first is the obvious geographic place that conditions their experiences, memories, dreams, and traumas. The other Iraq is the one of nostalgia and the stories of how it was before. The third is of “what if” and “if only.” It is the Iraq of dreams that were never realized. The desires that were forcibly pushed aside as physical violence forced the dreamers to hide their dreams and to send them away to far away places in their consciousness.

This paper will present some of these dream narratives, and explore what the effect of repeated traumas have been on the ability or desire of the dreamers to continue to imagine political possibilities. Some have sworn off politics arguing that potential for political agency is highly constrained. Others continue to be politically active despite their experiences, and yet some are at the same time weary of political activism’s ability to make change but advocate political involvement. These narratives point to unresolved internal debate about the nature of power and politics. The paper identifies ways in which these narratives contain a level of “political depression” as defined by Ann Cvektovic, where political work does not seem to alter the world or empower those involved. Lastly the paper will ask about the political possibilities that can be opened up by excavating and conjuring up the old deferred dreams of the past in the current moment where possibilities for Iraq might seem very limited.