Monday, June 02, 2008

The Anti-Totalitarian Future?

In the New York Times, Stephen Farrell reports there are only a handful of known Jews left in Iraq. What was presumably the last operating synagogue closed in 2003 when the chaos became too dire. Matthew Yglesias derives the following from the story:

... the upshot of the factoid about the synagogue seems to be that the U.S. invasion actually turned Iraq into a less hospital [sic] place for Jews than was Saddam Hussein's rabidly anti-Zionist rapacious dictatorship.

That's precisely the upshot a "reality-based" liberal would take from it, but it's historically illiterate. To be fair Farrell's article encourages a hasty reader to make that interpretation, but in Yglesias' case this appears to be just anti-Bush snark. One is wrong, the other wrong-headed. In The Assassins' Gate, George Packer makes it clear that Saddam's "anti-Zionism" -- the euphemism used by both Yglesias and Farrell -- so thoroughly poisoned younger generations of Iraqis that Iraqi Jews had basically become cryptids by the time of the invasion. The synagogue that closed in 2003 must have been an outlier.

Gate also illuminates the quote at the end of Farrell's piece, in which the main interviewee's father laments that he "used to spend more time with Arabs than Jews". He, an octogenarian, is referring to comity with Iraqi Muslims of his generation, their children and their childrens' children. These are people who formed their opinions about Jews before the anti-Semitism of the Baathist regime corrupted the later generations.

Insofar as it's particular to them, the situation today for Jews in Iraq has only a little to do with the Gulf actions. Our latter invasion has inflamed the Baathist die-hards and Islamist conspirazoids, but those processes were well under way during the inter-war years. It's true the chaos resulting from the stupidity and incompetence of the occupation has accelerated and amplified all kinds of violence. But to fold up your Times, rest it beside your latte, tisk and tick off Baathist Jew-hatred as one more "upshot" of Bush's war is just dilettantism. It collapses the history of Iraqi anti-Semitism -- which replayed across the Arab and Muslim world -- and yokes it to a cheap, partisan point.

Neoconservatism is the mullet of American politics. If Obama becomes President, a "reality-based" liberalism will be in the ascendant. It's interesting to consider what these people choose to notice and when.

Postscript: An older, related post.

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