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Ignited Iraq | The Nation

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Ignited Iraq

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At the Polytechnic Institute, a student had identified his own fury at the governing council as rooted in one member who had done business with the Israelis. "Can you imagine that," he yelled, "dealing with Israelis? Shaking hands with Jews!" He almost spat out his words. One day while I was at the American headquarters, I was told that extremists in a Toyota Land Cruiser had fired a volley of bullets into the lobby of a Baghdad hotel because they heard Jews were staying there, which was untrue. The imam who looked like Christ at 50 had warned his congregation that Jews were buying up houses in the neighborhood. He complained that the American authorities had summoned and questioned him for doing this. I asked what evidence he had that Jews were investing in Baghdad real estate. "It's only a rumor," he said, "but I felt it was my duty to pass it along. The Americans say they're staying for five years, and if that's accurate then Iraq will be transformed into a second Palestine."

Peter Davis was on assignment in Iraq this summer for The
Nation
.

If you want to read everything The Nation has ever published on Iraq, click here for information on how to acquire individual access to The Nation Digital Archive.

About the Author

Peter Davis
Peter Davis is an author and filmmaker who received an Academy Award for his Vietnam War documentary Hearts and Minds....

Also by the Author

El Salvador today is an Exhibit A casualty of the American imperium.

Closeness, even friendship, with our former enemies.

"Never forget the Palestinians!" one of the speakers at the Mother of All Battles Mosque had commanded. "As soon as the roads are open we will go to fight in Palestine to support the Palestinians as part of our jihad!" Another imam led the crowd in a chant: "oh jews, oh jews, the army of mohammed will be back!" He followed the chant by intoning prayerfully, "God condemns Zionism. We will make no other decision but jihad."

Rasim Mansour, the theater director who had scored his first success playing Macbeth, maintained that Desire Under the Elms achieved a fuller meaning because O'Neill wrote the play about a Jewish family destroyed by its corrupt, aggressive patriarch. I pointed out that the families in the play are the Cabots and Putnams, venerable New England names, anything but Jewish. Rasim held his ground. "No," he said, "this shows what O'Neill thought of Jews and it is also our opinion as Arabs." I reminded Rasim that his other American playwright hero, Arthur Miller, is Jewish. "Yes, it's possible," he said, "but Miller knows the American soul. I'm not against Jews but against some of the Jewish ideas."

What might those be?

You can imagine my surprise when Rasim said the Jewish ideas he doesn't like have to do with money. "Thanks to Israel the American movie industry is great and rich, and movies are mostly in the hands of Jews," he said. "Hollywood is very advanced technically, but I admire the Italian movies more because they have real ideas. Titanic is all the Americans can do well. Spielberg is a Jew and he gives his money to Israel. He's the model for American movies, and he's a good model but he bears Jewish ideals. Why didn't American movies find a place for Orson Welles to work? He only got to make Citizen Kane and afterward he was banned because he didn't adopt the ideas of the Jews." (Somehow it didn't seem worth pointing out that the original screenplay for Citizen Kane was written by a Jew, Herman Mankiewicz.) "Yes," he went on, "it's true the blacklist happened to some Jews as well, but eventually Hollywood adopted Jewish ideas, the main one of which is to run after what is profitable."

I asked whether, as a creative person himself, he admires other artistic Jews besides Arthur Miller. "Oh yes," he said, one of my favorite poets is a Jew." He paused, and I wondered who this educated and well-read man was going to name. "Ezra Pound," he said. For the first and only time in Iraq I found myself yelling, "no, ezra pound was not a jew! in fact, he hated jews so much he made broadcasts for our enemy during world war ii and was arrested for treason afterward. he was not a jew, rasim, please!"

Rasim remained admirably calm. "No, no," he said benignly, "Ezra Pound was a Jew." He smiled. "And a very talented one, too." It occurred to me that when Rasim was having his triumph as Macbeth, perhaps Macduff, just for one performance, could have used a real sword. Rasim is not an Iraqi everyman but neither is he atypical. A high level of culture and education exists in Iraq, along with a persistent strain of tribal superstition, and sometimes these can both be found in the same person.

The point is not that Iraqis are about to mount a pogrom or march on Jerusalem. The point is that anti-Jewish feelings, as well as rhetoric, constitute a theme, religiously and politically, in the life of countless Iraqis. I was told that the killer of Randa's friend Jeff undoubtedly received a bonus when it was revealed that Jeff was Jewish. The Bush Administration has its hands full if it proposes to construct an Iraq that accepts Israel, that can distinguish between Jews and a Jewish state, that can regard a Jew as an individual and not as an embodiment of evil motives. Unlike the other tasks of the occupation, this will not be a reconstruction; it will be an original piece of architecture. The dream of US policy-makers that they can use Iraq as a talisman to bewitch the rest of the Middle East into embracing democracy and Israel may prove as illusory as the Arabs' own quest for regional unity.

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