New Babylonians: A History of Jews in Modern Iraq

New Babylonians: A History of Jews in Modern Iraq

New Babylonians: A History of Jews in Modern Iraq

New Babylonians: A History of Jews in Modern Iraq

Synopsis

Although Iraqi Jews saw themselves as Iraqi patriots, their community-which had existed in Iraq for more than 2,500 years-was displaced following the establishment of the state of Israel. New Babylonians chronicles the lives of these Jews, their urban Arab culture, and their hopes for a democratic nation-state. It studies their ideas about Judaism, Islam, secularism, modernity, and reform, focusing on Iraqi Jews who internalized narratives of Arab and Iraqi nationalisms and on those who turned to communism in the 1940s.

As the book reveals, the ultimate displacement of this community was not the result of a perpetual persecution on the part of their Iraqi compatriots, but rather the outcome of misguided state policies during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Sadly, from a dominant mood of coexistence, friendship, and partnership, the impossibility of Arab-Jewish coexistence became the prevailing narrative in the region-and the dominant narrative we have come to know today.

Excerpt

Though I take my faith from the religion of Moses,
I live under the protection of Muhammad’s religion,
I take refuge in the tolerance of Islam,
And my inspiration is the sublime language of the Qur’an,
I love of the nation of Muhammad,
Although I worship Moses,
I shall remain as loyal as al-Samaw’al,
Whether miserable or blissful in my beloved Baghdad.

This poem, written in Arabic by Jewish Iraqi poet Anwar Sha’ul (b. 1904), references al-Samaw’al ibn ‘Adiya, a celebrated pre-Islamic Jewish poet. the modern Jewish poet evoked the memory of the medieval Arab Jewish bard in order to highlight his own loyalty to Arab culture, his admiration of the Arabic language, and his desire to be part of this culture. This poem, I believe, reflects many of the cultural and political choices adopted by Iraqi Jews in the twentieth century. Following Sha’ul’s contemplations on the nature of Arab, Iraqi, and Jewish identities, I explore the writings of modern Iraqi Jews, including their perceptions of patriotism, secularism, and . . .

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