On the eve of the Iraqi elections, the daughter of Iraqi Jews mourns the destruction of Baghdad’s once-vibrant Jewish community
02 March '10
As Iraq’s March 7 election draws near, I can’t help reflecting on how far the Iraqi nation, now entrenched in factionalism, has departed from the commitment to multiculturalism so vital to its birth. “There is no meaning in the words Jews, Muslims, and Christians in the terminology of patriotism, there is simply a country called Iraq and all are Iraqis,” King Faisal proclaimed in 1921, soon after the British installed him as king. These were fine words, underscored by a constitution that granted all of Iraq’s indigenous minorities equal rights. But Faisal’s valiant experiment in diversity proved short-lived, as I know all too well—my own family was forced into exile in 1951, after the government decided to eject Iraqi Jews en masse from the country.
Actually, it would be more accurate to say my family exploded into exile, atomizing in the process. Some members landed in Israel, some in Iran, and some in North America; my immediate kin escaped first to India and then eventually to the United Kingdom. The dynamite involved was—as is ever the story with Jews—racial hatred, which played itself out in the Iraqi political arena as an inability to resolve escalating tensions between Arab Nationalism and Zionism.
My family was far from alone in being shattered. Iraq’s entire Jewish population—a community with roots in Mesopotamia that pre-date the birth of Islam by a millennium—was unceremoniously ejected from the country between 1950 and 1951. But first the Iraqi government had “denaturalized” the Jews, effectively making them refugees in their own land and rendering them defenseless against marauding gangs eager to harm Jews in a kind of skewed quid pro quo for the displacement of Palestinian Arabs.
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