Monday, May 11, 2009

A common culture did not save the Jews of Iraq

Rachel Shabi continues to peddle her thesis that Israel's 'de-arabisation' of Jews from Arab and Muslim countries has prejudiced prospects for peace with the Arabs. This piece, toned-down for Sunday Times readers, carries the nevertheless provocative headline: Israel, land of broken promises.

Shabi writes:"... if Israel could find a way to reconnect with its own Middle-Eastern self, the chances are that this would result in the country having entirely different relations with the region. Because long before they were apparent arch enemies, Arabs and Jews were culture collaborators, good neighbours — and friends."

Sorry, Rachel - a complete fallacy. Cultural affinities alone are not enough to guarantee peaceful coexistence. Those 'good neighbours and friends' managed to 'ethnically cleanse' over 800,000 Jews from Arab countries. Intolerant Arab nationalism treated even the most acculturated Jewish neighbour as a potential Zionist and an enemy. And to Islamic fundamentalists today, the only good Jew is a dead Jew, subservient dhimmi, or convert to Islam.

At a lecture last week on the literature of the Iraqi Jews, I was reminded of how Jewish writers and poets were exhilarated at the promised dawn of the Arabic Nahda (Renaissance) in 1920s Iraq in which they fully expected to take part. As conditions for the Jewish community declined in the 30s and 40s, its members were forced to make increasingly desperate expressions of loyalty to Arab states, until 1950 when the vast majority of the Jews seized the chance to flee. But some 5,000 stayed on, and still the persecution continued. No declaration was more fawning or servile than the poem written by the Jewish poet Anwar Shaul whose publication helped secure the release from prison of his friend, the writer and community leader Meir Basri in 1971:

Though I derived my faith from Moses,
I dwell under the shadow of Muhammad’s religion (Islam).
The Tolerance of Islam was my refuge,
The eloquence of the Quran was my resource.
My love to the nation of Ahmed did not diminish
even though I am devoted to the Speaker’s (Moses) religion.
I will remain like the Al-Samaw'al in loyalty,
Whether I am happy in Baghdad or I am not.**
*Al Samw'al [6th century AD] a Jewish poet, sacrified his son to keep his word.
** With thanks to Niran for her translation

Anwar Shaul and Meir Basri were the epitomy of Arabised Jewish culture. They stuck it out to the bitter end - enduring persecution, harassment and imprisonment until the 1970s when they could stand it no more. They were among the last Jews to leave Iraq. Shaul went to Israel, Basri to England.

The question Rachel Shabi should be asking is not what can Israel to do to become part of the Middle East, but why are there no Jewish musicians or poets left in Baghdad or Cairo?


bob said...

Shabi: "long before they were apparent arch enemies, Arabs and Jews were culture collaborators, good neighbours — and friends".

Of course, long before they were "apparent" arch enemies, Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Serbs were culture collaborators, good neighbours — and friends. It's a guaranteed recipe for peaceful co-existence isn't it!

bataween said...


Titus said...

This is becoming tedious, you people parrot the party line without possesing the intellect to opine on the subject. Your foreign minister refers to "Araboosh". How do you imagine that goes down in Cambridge, one of the five top universities in the world ? You guys are a laughing stock here. Keep it up. Better than watching T.V.