In Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the centre of current anti-government protests, young Iraqis have co-opted a number of western cultural references.

Sara al-Qaher

When the high priest of the temple of the ancient Egyptian god, Amun, appeared in central Baghdad recently, people were surprisingly pleased to see him.
This particular high priest was known as a liar and a thief, who erected stones inside his temple so that worshippers would think they were deities and bring his church more money. According to protesters, there are some parallels in the political situation in Iraq today and that is why the demonstrator in Tahrir Square dressed up as such a figure.
This protester was not the only one who chose to wear a costume to the demonstrations in central Baghdad. Violence and death has not stopped others from doing the same and over the past weeks, locals have seen the Joker arrive as well as groups wearing Guy Fawkes masks and the dance from the online PUBG game performed in real life.
Most of the demonstrators in Iraq are younger and have been referred to as the PUBG generation before. Many of the more noteworthy costumes and performances featured large on Iraqi social media, including one disturbing scene showing a young man trying to do the PUBG dance on a berm, before being knocked down by what was apparently a missile of some kind. The PUBG dance can be seen as a symbol of shared culture among the youthful Iraqis.
Another popular video involved a protester singing in the middle of smoke and tear gas, unconcerned by what was going on around him. “Oh world, I am calling you to listen. Our revolution is heroic, it is for humanity,” the young man sang. The video of his act was shared thousands of times on social media.
The Guy Fawkes’s masks are actually called the “Vendetta” masks in Iraq because for the locals here, they come from the dystopian thriller, V for Vendetta. The trailer has the rebellious hero, wearing just such a mask, saying: “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” The storyline about revolution makes the masks appropriate for Tahrir Square too.
The character of the Joker, from out of the new Hollywood movie, also made an appearance several times, when both young men and women copied the smeared make up that the lead character wears. In that movie, the lead, played by Joaquin Phoenix, feels marginalized and exploited and decides to take revenge on his supposed oppressors.
This is also why the young Iraqis chose this figure to imitate. The big difference in Baghdad though, was that the Iraqi “Jokers” were peaceful, unlike the character in the film.
The Joker character was also photoshopped into pictures of the crowds at the demonstrations. One artwork showed him dodging bullets, another had him in flames.

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