Forget Baghdad

Forget Baghdad, a documentary film by Samir, tracks the complexities of “identity” in the Middle East. I caught it today at the Seattle Jewish Film Festival, after missing it last month at the Seattle Arab-Iranian Film Festival.
Samir, the director of Forget Baghdad, is a Shiite Muslim Iraqi emigre, living in Switzerland. (His father, an Iraqi Communist, had to flee the country to escape Saddam). In the film, he interviews four elderly Jewish Iraqi emigres, all ex-Communists, who were forced to leave Baghdad for Israel in 1951, when almost the entire Iraqi Jewish community was prevailed upon (by both the Iraqi and Israeli governments) to emigrate. (A fifth interviewee is Ella Shohat, born in Israel of Iraqi Jewish parents, and currently teaching film at NYU).
All the interviewees are articulate, and display very mixed emotions. They all miss Baghdad, and regret the disappearance of the multi-religious society that existed in Iraq (as in many parts of the Arab world) prior to 1948; they all feel their Arabness as fully as they do their Jewishness; they all have experienced discrimination in Israeli society, as Mizrahim (“Oriental” Jews) rather than Ashkenazim (European Jews).
By their accounts, no discrimination against Jews existed in Iraq before 1941, when a pogrom was unleashed by nationalist putsch against the pro-British monarchy, with support from the Nazis. (It remains true today: anti-Semitism, so-called, is a European import into the Arab world).
Forget Baghdad isn’t a great film, but it well demonstrates, once again, how the lines of ethnic and religious turmoil that bedevil the world today are not “age-old” rivalries, but modernist inventions. It shows, too, how “Jews” and “Arabs” are, culturally speaking, much closer kin than is usually acknowledged.

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