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Have The Arabs Finally Lost the Jews of Iraq?

by Ibrahim Gharabia, a Jordanian writer

Translated from Al-Hayat Newspaper 14.7.1999

The Jews of Iraq may have been one of the Communities which had contributed to the plurality and richness so characteristic of Arabian life. A similar loss may soon take place in the case of the Kurds and Berbers. Such plurality is crucial in all countries and especially the Arab. Arab/Islamic civilisation was renowned for its capacity to absorb and tolerate different cultures and different nationalities.

The Jews of Iraq were both Iraqis and Arabs at the same time who had contributed important examples of art, literature and culture. For example, Samir Naquash, the Iraqi novelist who lives in Israel, still speaks and writes in Arabic and declares and defends his Iraqi and Arabic identity in Israel. Jewish musicians and singers were very prominent in the artistic life of Iraq, notably the singer Salima Murad who was famous in Iraq in the recent generations and who married the popular singer Nathem al-Ghazali. Well-known professors such as David Semah and Sasson Somekh have taught Arabic literature in the universities of Israel. Iraqi Finance Minister Sasson Heskel managed to conclude a favourable treaty with oil companies that enabled Iraq to receive royalties based on the price of gold.

Even though nearly all of the Jews left Iraq for Israel and other countries, they still lead an Iraqi life wherever they may be, including later generations who don't even speak Arabic.

Sami Zubaida who left Baghdad in 1963 and who is a professor at London University still cherishes his Iraqi and Arabic identity and has written of his past experience in this capacity in French magazine recently "Orient et Occident."

Many members of the Communist party in Iraq besides Sami, were Jews. One of its founders and leaders was Abu Fahad who was a Jew and he was hanged in 1949 for his views. It is interesting to note that Jewish members of the Communist Party were asked to convert to Islam to show solidarity with their Moslem fellow members. Some did convert, but others refused, saying, they were neither Jews nor Moslems but Marxist. In fact, they became persecuted on two counts both as Jews and as Communist.

Most of the 130 thousand Jews of Iraq lived in Baghdad and constituted the middle-class and merchants and lawyers and accountants and professors. Most of the business quarters in Baghdad used to close on Saturdays. With their knowledge of foreign languages and good education they rendered a great help in the establishment of the State of Iraq in the 20Ős.

The Jews were virtually driven out of Iraq as a result of discrimination and persecution and had to endure years of hardship in the transit camps of Israel.

In his book the "Republic of Fear" the engineer and author Kana'an Makiya voices his regrets for Iraq's loss of its important Jewish Community.

Naim Dangoor writes:

History has shown that there was no future for Communism. It cannot, therefore, be a unifying force in the Middle East. Even in Russia, its country of origin, Communism collapsed in 1989.

Communism is the politics of envy, reducing everything to a common denominator. It is said that the Tenth Commandment is an attack on Communism, and an endorsement of Capitalism. Whereas most of the Ten Commandments deal with social morals, Honour your parents; Do not murder; Do not steal, etc., the last one says Do not covet your neighbour's donkey.....

God is telling us if you want something that your neighbour has, do not try to take it from him, but you should go out and get it yourself. Of the two systems, Capitalism is the lesser evil.

The true course is in between, the economics of the Torah, restricting the accumulation, storage and transmission of wealth, especially when it consists of land values and interest-bearing public and private debts.

Historical note: After the Farhood of June 1941, in which hundreds of Jews were cruelly massacred overnight, thousands of homes and businesses looted, the Jewish youth of Iraq were shocked and disillusioned, and found themselves unable to obtain visas to go anywhere.

In order to ensure their families' safety and be able to defend themselves in case of a renewed attack, they organised themselves by joining either the Communist Party, or a newly formed Zionist movement, both being underground activities carrying the death-sentence for their members.

On another occasion, I had a memorable experience in 1951, when Yousef Basri and Yehuda Saddick were under sentence of death for accused Communist activities. I was on a long overnight flight from London to Baghdad on a B.E.A. Viscount, on which I was allocated a seat in the last row but one. Looking behind me, I was surprised to see the last row occupied by none other than King Feisal, the Regent Abdul Ilah and Prime Minister Nouri al-Said, also returning to Baghdad. I was tempted to plead with them to show mercy to Basri and Saddick, but I was unable to muster the courage. I have often blamed myself for having missed a golden opportunity which fate brought me so close to the three most powerful men of Iraq without an appointment.

Tolerant Islam: Islamic fundamentalism and Arab nationalism that echo religious fanaticism of Europe, are incompatible with the image of tolerant Islam projected by most historians.

Thus, the designation of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, or the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Arab Republic of Syria are aggressive and unacceptable. Minorities should enjoy the same rights as majorities, and restrictive and oppressive designations must be absent in multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-language societies. India can take credit for absence of discrimination of non-conformists.



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