Friday, May 23, 2008

How ex-Indonesian president became a Judeophile

Ron Kampease tell the amazing story in the San Francisco Sentinel of how, as a student at Baghdad university, a former president of Indonesia became a Judeophile and a champion of moderate Islam: (with thanks: Jerusalem Posts).

"In its telling, the story of a notorious lynching of Jews is not unusual.The storyteller, however, is: Abdurrahman Wahid, the former Indonesian president, and a leading Muslim scholar weeks to preach his message of Muslim tolerance, revealed the root of his understanding of the risks and perils of Jewish existence.

"Wahid was a 29-year-old student at Baghdad University in 1966, earning his keep as a secretary at a textile importer, when he befriended the firm’s elderly accountant, an Iraqi Jew he remembers only by his family name, Ramin.

“I learned from him about the Kabbalah, the Talmud, everything about Judaism,” Wahid recalled of the four-year friendship that included long lunches, quiet walks and talks at the city’s legendary Hanging Gardens.

"Wahid has spoken about this friendship before — it is featured in his biography by Greg Barton, “Abdurrahman Wahid: Muslim Democrat, Indonesian President” — but on this recent tour Wahid added to the account his memories of Jan. 27, 1969.In 1968, the Iraqi government effectively had come under the control of Saddam Hussein, whose title at that time was deputy to the president, Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr. At Saddam’s behest, Iraqi courts had convicted 14 Iraqis – nine of them Jews – on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel, and they were hanged that day in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, just steps away from where the textile firm had offices.

"Ramin came to his friend Wahid and wept, wondering what would become of Iraq’s ancient Jewish community.

“I said, ‘This is not only your fate, it is my fate,’ ” said Wahid, now frail and in a wheelchair.Wahid said he decided then that “the Islamic people should learn” about the Jews and their faith.

"Ramin’s worst fears were realized: The community that dated to the Babylonian exile heard Saddam’s message loud and clear, and by the early 1970s it had dwindled to barely a hundred Jews. By 2007 there were less than 10, according to media accounts.Wahid, however, made good on his pledge. Best known as the president who shifted Indonesia to democracy from 1999 to 2001, Wahid then was forced out due to a combination of financial scandals and hard-liners who opposed his attempts to liberalize restrictions on political groups and the country’s Chinese minority.Wahid also has gained prominence for his insistence on introducing the world’s most populous Muslim nations to certain truths about the Jews."

Read article in full

Article (Hebrew) on Wahid's recent visit to Israel (with thanks: Iraqijews)

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