Muslim laments the lost soul of ‘judenrein’ Iraq

 After experiencing Shabbat lunch with Edwin Shuker,  lyrical and wistful Times of Israel piece about Iraq’s lost soul by Fiyaz Mughal, whose organisation Tell Mama monitors islamophobia in Britain. (I am not sure that there is a ‘small and growing’ movement  of Jews who want to return to Iraq. Edwin Shuker is the only known Jew who travels there regularly) (With thanks: Imre, Ruth, Edward):

 Street scene in Baghdad, where up to a third of the residents were Jewish

The loss of Jewish communities within
predominantly Arab Muslim lands in the last 70 years has been a cultural
and historical catastrophe for these countries. Oral traditions and
stories of co-existence have been lost and so has the chance to explore
this history and its uniqueness that could have been an antidote to the
separationism that has crept in on the back of Israel and Palestine

Therefore the loss of Iraqi Jewish communities, had led to the
loss of a bit of the soul of Iraq, a trauma that the country cannot get
over, without a return of Jewish cultural life and heritage into the
country. The chances of that happening are minimal, but people like
Shuker, who courageously travel to Baghdad and who picture Jewish
institutions and homes, keep that hope alive. His work is more than
important, it is essential in restoring the history and heritage of

That is why around the table, people
reflected, enjoyed Iraqi sweets that are now rare to find and they
reminisced about how men would go to the synagogue early in the morning
during Shabbat, return home and enjoy traditional snacks, followed by a
sleep in the heat and breeze of Baghdad and followed by lunch with the
family. This was their memory of Iraq, of sounds, smells, sweets and
family. Others talked about how they drove without licenses and how the
bureaucracy of Iraq was based on a structure of who you knew and how
they could help you overcome problems. Many around the table smiled,
laughed and missed the country that was still in their blood.

Yet, they could not turn back the tide of the
huge tremors which shaped changes in the Middle East. Many Iraqi Jews
left Iraq in the 1950’s and in the early 70’s. During 1971-1972, the
situation in Iraq for Iraqi Jews became life threatening as they became a
political pawn in Saddam Hussain’s ventures to be the ‘strongman’ of
the Middle East. Around the table, they talked about their escape routes
which ended up with them exiting through Iran, leaving behind thousands
of years of themselves in the soil and in the buildings of Iraq.

The greatest tragedy of the Middle East
conflict has not only been the lives lost within it. It is the tragedy
of the histories and relationships that have been torn from one another
from Morocco through to Iraq. Right across the Arab and Muslim world,
its cultural heritage has been affected because of the loss of its
Jewish communities. Yes, the history of Jews in Muslim majority
countries was better than that in Europe, but let us not forget, that in
the end, we all have lost out because of the geo-politics of the Middle
East. The soul of a country can be felt by how it treats its
minorities. That soul is sadly missing in many countries in the Middle
East in today’s world.

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