Iraq: Shakespeare and Hope

by Michele Naar-Obed

Every week during the 62-day nonviolent people’s uprising in Suleimaniya (Kurdish north of Iraq), organizers gave a different name to the demonstrations at “Freedom Square.”  One week, the choice was, “Days of Hope.”  CPTers found signs of hope in Shakespeare – and the Kurdish university students studying Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116.

About 50 students, both women and men, grappled with words, metaphors, meanings, and their implications for their world (in English!).  Encouraged by a professor who gingerly drew out their thoughts and gave them space to articulate their ideas, they tackled such concepts as spiritual love versus physical love, fixed marks, bending love, time’s fool, sickle’s compass.  The depth to which both professor and student delved was inspiring.

After class, bright-eyed students with glowing smiles shared that they really didn’t know what would come of such courses, but they want to keep studying.

Shakespeare’s message of true love, the love that transcends time and space, still exists in this troubled world marked by war, destruction, cruelty, and despair.  It certainly existed in this classroom of future poets and writers, lovers and leaders of the nonviolent struggle for justice and peace.

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments.  Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no!  it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown,
although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool,
though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and  weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom. 
If this be error and upon me proved, 
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.