Babylonian Hostility: In Iraq, the Jews-And Anti-Semitism-Are Everywhere

Article excerpt

Last August, when Imam Mahdi al Jumeili of the small Hudheifa Mosque in Baghdad's Shurti neighborhood met three American officers to resolve a dispute over soldiers entering the grounds of his mosque, his first question was, "Are any of you Jews?" When he was satisfied that none was, he allowed the meeting to proceed. Prior to the Americans' arrival, he had voiced his views about them. "We are sure they came here to steal the country and protect Israel," he said, adding that "Judaism and Masonism are at war with Islam."

Such views are common in Iraq, where "al Yahud"--"the Jews"--are everywhere. Purportedly serious works about the Jewish threat, including Arabic editions of the notorious czarist forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, are available in every book market. The widespread acceptance of outlandish fantasies about Jewish infiltration and manipulation demonstrates the degree to which Iraqis, whose views were shaped by years of authoritarian control, misunderstand and fear the outside world. The anti-Semitic paranoia is one measure of how difficult the transition to liberal democracy will be.

For a journalist, not a day goes by without mention of Jews and Israel. "We are Muslims!" a taxi driver declared proudly during an evening ride to a hotel. "And Jews come to our land?" When asked to whom he was referring, he said: "They are all Jews. The Americans are all Jews and mercenaries. We know their religion." Another taxi driver explained that "America and the Jews are one. We know this from their interests, their relationships, and America's defense of the Jews.... America and Jews are the same because they have the same goals and the same faith." An angry man in the market of Abu Ghraib, a town west of Baghdad, explained that "the Americans are Jews. Their work is Jewish. Nobody accepts them."

Last summer and fall, signs on the walls of the Abu Hanifa mosque warned Iraqis that Jews had come to the Ekal Hotel and planned to purchase land, just as they did in Palestine, to drive Iraqis out of their country. "Do not stab your fellow Iraqis in the heart" by selling land to the Jews, the signs exhorted. A visit to the Ekal Hotel proved that it was closed for renovations and had no guests.

In November, at the Rahman Mosque in Baghdad's Mansour district, faithful Shi'ites heard Sheikh All al Ibrahimi condemn a decision by the Iraqi Governing Council to let certain non-Iraqis obtain Iraqi citizenship. Ibrahimi warned that "if Jews reside in Iraq, then they will become Iraqi citizens, and they will own Iraq and we will be their guests."

The widespread Iraqi hostility toward Jews stands in contrast to a more ambivalent Muslim tradition. Although the Koran frequently condemns Jews, it mandates a modus vivendi with them, relegating them to an inferior but protected status. …