BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media, from NPR. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. You may consider children's literature to be a simple matter of rhyming couplets and fluffy bunnies. But under Saddam Hussein, the stories and illustrations found in kids' books spoke to the kind of world Iraqi children were being raised to live in. On its web site recently, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in Baghdad reported that titles like Tanks in the Night that were offered pre-occupation are now giving way to childrens' magazines like Trumpet, which focus on games and comics and, yes, fluffy bunnies. Hiwa Osman, editor and trainer for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting worked with reporter trainee Salaam Jihad on the story. Osman joins me now on the phone from Baghdad. Hiwa, welcome to On the Media.
HIWA OSMAN: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Tell me, please, what was children's literature like in Iraq before the war?
HIWA OSMAN: Well, it was heavily loaded with Saddam's picture, Saddam's sayings, his quotes. I talked to some small children who said that they had to memorize 100 quotes from the leader-president, Saddam Hussein. Mathematics book had a picture of Saddam Hussein and students were asked to measure the area of that picture. Saddam was all over the place.
BOB GARFIELD:I read about a story called Men of Our Country which showed little Iraqi kids pictures of Iraqi military officers standing over a group of very miserable Iranian prisoners from the war with Iran in the '80s. Is that true?
HIWA OSMAN: It is, indeed. This was basically part of the propaganda campaign by the old regime. All the children grew up with the notion that the Iranians hate us, Syrians hate us, everybody hate us. They basically wanted to prepare all the children for all the various wars that Saddam was doing against his neighbors.
BOB GARFIELD: What was the effect, over the years, of this kind of propaganda in children's literature?
HIWA OSMAN: Well, they lived in a complete state of isolation. Many of our trainees are recent graduates, so we can see the effect of that campaign, of that strategy against them. They are extremely frightened of everything that comes from outside. They are very militant as well, but with the little contact that they are having now with the outside world. For example, an institute like ours, or now they have satellite TVs or internet access to the outside world, they are seeing that life is not all about guns and tanks and wars and battles and leader-presidents. There is a much brighter side to life, and only now they are dabbling with the, with their first experiences with the outside life.
BOB GARFIELD:The story on your web site focused on a publisher called Children's Culture House which I gather publishes both books and magazines aimed at kids?
HIWA OSMAN: That's right.
BOB GARFIELD: Tell me, what's Children's Culture House publishing now?
HIWA OSMAN: Saddam Hussein's regime forced them to publish everything in the service of the "great battle" as they described it, but nowadays they are publishing a lot more stronger stories for children that might have a political undertone, that might have an educational undertone -- basically it's acting as an important instrument in bringing the Iraqi children back to normal life.
BOB GARFIELD: So it's kittens and zoo animals and tales of the Arabian Nights?
HIWA OSMAN: Tales of the Arabians Nights, tales from the Iraqi culture, and at the same time, stories of, for example, how was the Red Cross founded. But again, it's introducing them to various things that for years all the Iraqi people, not only children, were deprived of.
BOB GARFIELD:Are the authorities, the coalition authorities now resisting the temptation to use this children's publishing house to do propaganda as well? To introduce democratic ideals and the glories of the West to Iraqi children, or is it completely hands-off?
HIWA OSMAN: I think it's completely hands-off. The authorities in Iraq today, I think they have enough on their plates to go into school books or children's literature. Basically what they are finding, and that is what we have found as well in our institute - just let them be, and this is the natural path that they will take -they will want to learn about democracy. They would want to learn about new international norms and standards. We haven't heard of any cases of authorities trying to interfere with them.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, Hiwa, thank you very much.
HIWA OSMAN: You're welcome.
BOB GARFIELD:Hiwa Osman is an editor and trainer for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. He spoke to us from Baghdad where one of his trainees wrote a story about changes in children's literature.