Saturday, November 11, 2006

Iraqi Identities

As a historian of the Middle East whose intellectual formation came in part during the genocides of the 1990's in which most Americans preferred to ignore them as inscrutable centuries-old hatreds, I've been frustrated and depressed to see the same sorts of attitudes come to shape people's perceptions of Iraq, especially among my usual allies on the left. With that in mind, I'm anxious to recommend Hala Fattah's post on Iraqi exilies in Jordan:
"Among the daily horror of escalating civil war in Iraq, I take refuge in history. I believe that what a people once was cannot completely be erased by the interventions of the present, no matter how crippling the burdens of oppression, external interference and war. This realization has gradually dawned upon me as I continue to interview older Iraqis in Amman, Jordan, for a project on the monarchy period in Iraq (1921-1958). While an informed perspective on Iraq’s history as well as a dose of common sense would require us to note that that younger Iraqis, who have weathered persecution, instability, continuous military conflict and radical economic deprivation may realistically have nothing in common with an older, more worldly class of compatriots, who have lived abroad and are, for the most, at ease in exile, I continue to find interesting connections and relationships between older and younger Iraqis that defy barriers of class, confession, ethnicity and power. Even now, as ethnic cleansing and religion-based ideologies take hold in certain parts of Iraq, Iraqis in exile in Amman very often refuse to enter in the heavily politicized arena of sectarian-baiting and racist abuse that passes for a certain kind of power discourse at home."

She also has a great story from the time of the Armenian genocide. One thing I would point out about Iraq is that while there ha always been Shi'ites in southern Iraq, most of the region only converted in the 1700's and 1800's, partly as a response to the rise of Wahhabism in the Arabian Peninsula and partly, I suspect, through association with the Shi'ite shrine cities. The history there is a lot more complicated than the media tends to make it.

(Crossposted to American Footprints.)


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