Superfluous Nostalgics: Longing for an Idealized Past among Iraqis in London

By Zainab Saleh
Submitted to Session P4776 (Iraq's Many Pasts, Iraq's Many Presents: Memory, Archive, and Representation, 2017 Annual Meeting
The US invasion of Iraq and the sectarian violence it leased marked a shift in the longing for an alternative Iraqi future and the imagination of the past. This paper examines nostalgic subjectivity in the context of exile, ruins, and disenchantment with the present. I focus on the nostalgic longing of the London-based Iraqi exiles, in particular communists, who find themselves stranded in the present. This subjectivity is acutely haunted by memories of revolution and disillusioned by the political catastrophes of the present. My interest is to examine the haunting political past that defines the lives and memories of Iraqi communists, and to capture the loss of the hope to return, the loss of homeland, and the loss of dreams. This paper revolves around social imaginaries of revolutionary pasts, in particular the anti-colonial struggle against the British and the monarchy, and the deep disappointment that followed the rise of Saddam Hussein to power in 1979 and the US occupation of Iraq in 2003. I show that the disappointment with the present and the dwindling prospects for a promising future has led to a tendency to mythologize the pre-Saddam past in which democracy, secularism, and social justice prevailed. Amid contemporary ruins and losses, an idealized past gains urgency since it provides a refuge from the present and a bleak future. My concern here is how people who lived the anti-colonial struggle remember and imagine the past, and how they inhabit the present amid the destruction of Iraq.