Saddam's Word: Political Discourse in Iraq
by Ofra Bengio
New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. 266 pp. $49.95.
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
Starting from the premise that the best way to understand the nature of Saddam Husayn's regime "is not through conventional narrative history but rather through an analysis of political discourse," Bengio reviews in detail the Iraqi regime's use of language. Focusing on the terms that the Ba`thi Party itself "placed at the center of its idiom," she shows the importance of the fact that "revolution" (thawra) is a good thing in Iraqi discourse and "coup d'état" (inqilab) a bad one. She dissects the treatment that a trio of enemies receives—imperialism, Israel, and Iran.
Bengio, a senior research fellow at the Dayan Center of Tel Aviv University, draws several major conclusions. The Saddam Husayn regime has lasted so long because it has mastered verbal manipulation as well as physical power. A "major shift" has taken place, "from a secular, leftist, and socialist idiom to a language dominated by Islamic terms and concepts." The ultimate purpose of all the political talk is to make the public "acquiesce in the total power monopoly of a numerically tiny elite."
While the author thoroughly and creatively exposes her subject, she does not achieve her bold claim of besting "conventional narrative history" in explaining Iraqi politics. However valuable the close reading of rhetorical texts, this can only complement, not replace, the full-scale study of history. In the end, the regime's propaganda is but a small part of its power.
Related Topics: Iraq | Daniel Pipes | June 1998 MEQ
receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free mef mailing list
This text may be reposted or forwarded so long as it is presented as an integral whole with complete and accurate information provided about its author, date, place of publication, and original URL.