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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 April 2019

Video games are a new front in Iraq's war on teenagers

Increased scrutiny of young people's behaviour ignores the bigger problems that they and the nation face

An boy plays online game PUBG on his mobile phone. AP
An boy plays online game PUBG on his mobile phone. AP

Politicians in Iraq are considering a ban on electronic games popular across the Middle East. Last week, the nation’s cultural parliamentary committee produced a draft law to prohibit multiplayer online games, particularly PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) and the Blue Whale. The committee’s head Sameaa Gullab clearly stated that they encourage violence and threaten “social security, morality, education and all segments of Iraqi society”.

This proposed move against gamers is just the latest example of what appears to be a wider clampdown on young people. It has been reported that local government officials are considering a law that would ban activities that undermine “the holiness of Najaf”, one of most important cities in Shia Islam. These include dance parties, women going out without a veil, and the playing of songs in public spaces. A dangerously censorious attitude towards young people can also be seen in wider society. In September 2018, Tara Fares, a 22-year-old model who published photographs of herself on Instagram, was shot dead in the southern city of Basra. Shortly after that Hamoudi Al Mutairi, 14, was stabbed to death because of his “feminine” looks. A video clip of his murder was posted on social media.

Like anywhere else in the world, enforcing a gaming ban in Iraq would be difficult, but it may also be counter-productive. No one fully understands the impact of video games on human behaviour. The question of whether popular culture – be it video games, music or fashion – influences or reflects society is still wide open. Many intelligent, conscientious and respectful young people play these games and doing so could even help equip young Iraqis with skills appropriate to the workplace of tomorrow, from online collaboration to independent thinking.

Instead of monitoring and restricting the behaviour of teenagers, Iraqi lawmakers would do well to turn their attention to the bigger problems the nation faces, particularly those of education and youth employment. This is a truly unenviable task. According to the World Bank, young people make up around 60 per cent of Iraq’s 40 million population, and 17 per cent of men and 27 per cent of women are unemployed. However, it is a challenge that must be met. If the older generation does not want young people to sit around playing video games, it must create opportunities for them to fulfil their vast potential instead.

Updated: April 15, 2019 07:02 PM

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