Just another tuesday afternoon


My office is located unfortunately close to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. On Tuesday evening when I left my office there was a diverse group of individuals protesting a fundraiser for the Friends of the Israeli Defense Force (FIDF).

The FIDF’s Mission Statement is this:

The FIDF initiates and helps support social, educational, cultural and recreational programs and facilities for the young men and women soldiers of Israel who defend the Jewish homeland. The FIDF also provides support for the families of fallen soldiers.

Although I understand the intention of the protest I took offense to a lot of what I saw. The protesters held signs advertising the number of Palestinians killed by IDF soldiers during various unspecified instances. The protesters themselves were too culturally diverse and not culturally diverse enough. They were all holding pre-printed, uniform signs. (what could be less genuine than pre-printed signs? I saw three variations… why distribute signs at all?).

The FIDF as an organization does not advocate increased military action. It does not advocate killing Palestinian children. It simply supports soldiers and their families who have suffered while fulfilling their legal obligations as citizens of a state. I cannot imagine an anti-Iraq war protest being held at a dinner to benefit veterans of the war.

I have to wonder if the organizations protesting the event knew anything about the FIDF. And if the organizers printed and distributed signs based on an inaccurate perception of what they were protesting- it is just as disturbing as if they willfully protested a benefit for veterans and their families.


Lately I’ve been questioning the validity of a lot of written works that we assume are factual. If one has access to an oral, first hand account I wonder if it is more credible than a second hand, studied or scholarly account. I think sometimes slight misunderstanding are codified; even if they result from justifiable ignorance.

With this blog partially in mind, I asked my father today, I think for the first time, to explain to me the history of sectarian divisions in Iraq. My father went to college in the US and studied political science. I know he has some personal biases, but I know him well enough to know what they are.

I’m not saying that my father is more reliable than scholars, but I do think that his understanding is much more nuanced. My father was born in 1938, but his father was born in 1902. My grandfather (who I never met) was a contractor. He used to do business with the British, Jewish Iraqis non-Jewish Iraqis- both Shiites and Sunnis.

The Shiites viewed Jews and Christians as dirty. Supposedly when my grandfather’s Shiite business partners went to my father’s house, they would not even drink a glass of water, because my family was Jewish. My father attended a Jewish school. If a Shiite teacher wanted to reprimand a student, (a socially acceptable practice at the time in many places) they would grab the student’s ear with a piece of paper to avoid dirtying their hand. The Jewish schools still hired Shiite teachers. My father did not find it offensive; it was an understood cultural difference. What I find so striking is that it did not bother anyone or obscure relationships.

Objectively it sounds crazy to me. But subjectively it makes so much sense. Some cultures tolerate things that sound outrageous. Not to say that Female Genital Mutilation is so acceptable, but when a mutual understanding is acceptable and not harmful to relationships, I see no problem with it. I think the story is kind of beautiful. Can these sorts of stories ever really be conveyed publicly?

When the Iraq war ended and the Iraqi constitution was drafted, my sister was thrilled to apply for dual citizenship. All groups that were forced out of the country or who lost their citizenship rights were to be allowed to come back and regain their citizenship, so my sister thought. The early drafts of the constitution “took pains to” exclude Jews from the list of those granted the right to return or at least the right to regain their status as citizens.

The earlier al-Mada draft took pains to exclude Israelis from those who could
obtain dual citizenship. That effort is absent from this text. This more focused
clause would not apply to most Israelis of Iraqi origin, since the vast majority
would have lost citizenship rights considerably before 1968 (though some did
emigrate in aftermath of espionage trials in 1969.
The main purpose of this article is to treat those who lost citizenship in the
1970s—chiefly Shi‘a but also some Kurds.]

The Iraqi Jews are very proud people. There are not many of us, and I have heard a rumor that 25 or so still lived in Iraq at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. The Iraqi Jews are so proud, in fact, that they often look down upon Eastern European Jews and their contrived traditions. I have heard Eastern European Jews called “peasants”. They are much more passive than iraqi jews. This is a digression, but I find it very funny. Also when my father was growing up, the Iraqi equivalent of blond jokes or Polish jokes were Kurdish jokes, a la “how many kurds does it take to screw in a light bulb”. I say that at the risk of being offensive, but I think it is very funny that offensive jokes are so easily translatable.

Long story short, I had a big problem with my sister’s desire for dual citizenship with a country that did not want us back; and with a country that I knew she had no intentions of visiting. I would prod her about it and try to get her to admit what I feared was the impetus behind her campaign (which was limited mostly limited to dinner table conversations).

And then she admitted it. I can’t remember what I said or why she caved but she finally admitted that it was because all of her friends had dual citizenship and she wanted it too. She and I both knew that Iraq was a hot topic. We were raised in this country, though, and both of us were guilty of being “American Kids”.

It is not something that I like to write about because I cannot do so without feeling like a sell-out. I feel that I am cheapening the culture. I love Iraqi food but I don’t make it in my apartment. A friend asked me to make a dish that he had tried at my parents house. He could not pronounce the word, and I yelled at him for asking me to make it. It is an awkward feeling; as time goes by fewer and fewer people will remember the traditions and the spirit and the culture. I do not want to let it die out and I am tremendously proud of it, but I feel like any attempt I make to explain or translate it, as if I am an expert, makes me feel like I am cheapening it.

Clarification: intervention

The anecdote I was addressing in a previous post, Family Politics, was that intervention for any reason that is based on a moral or ethical concern, is not good legitimate. I do not think that intervention in another state is a good thing. I see how calling all intervention wrong seems insensitive to the problems that many people face, but I mean it with the utmost respect for the strength and ingenuity of individuals everywhere. I think that successful change must come from within. The margin of error is too high and the record of intervening in other state’s internal politics is poor at best.

The fact that my grandmother had to escape from Iraq does not actually justify the war. The fact that she was excited that Saddam was thrown out of power invoked an emotional reaction within me. This does not make it right. Logically, the trade off is inappropriate. We believe that oppressive governments preclude populations from enacting change for themselves; but lasting change is born organically. Why do we assume that unhappy or oppressed populations will be incapable of changing their governments? What about the French Revolution, the English Civil War or the end to apartheid in South Africa?

People are capable of prudent decisions. Intervening in another state imposes an immediacy on governments and an anxiety upon their populations; and it is condescending. I am unconvinced that the American, or any Western European states’ populations, are so benevolent and selfless that we can objectively evaluate the quality and necessity for intervention in areas we are completely unfamiliar with.

It is not necessary to apply a judgment to the leadership, population, and cultures that breed what we consider to be reprehensible behaviors. Humanitarianism is a vague concept; I just cannot logically separate it from any other moral crusade in history in which a state transported humanity to areas that it considered uncivilized…

Imperialism was justified as a benevolent act because it brought god (and the related institutions) to areas that were not developed according to western standards (un-christian or “savage”). By bringing god and the Church, Imperialism brought humanity. To me, humanity and humanitarianism are equally vague judgments of other cultures.

I think that any leader who willingly harms his own people or targets a particular group is a terrible leader and a terrible person. I do not want to support that type of state through trade or aid. If adjacent states feel threatened by a particular leader’s actions they should absolutely involve themselves. It is never good to have only one moral perspective in the world even when it seems infallible. To destroy existing structures, there has to be past precedent for a violent moral campaigns that have been successful or that do not seem misguided later.

Has intervening or transporting moral trends ever not caused harm in retrospect? (really, I am asking because I cannot think of any instances) Are we really so afraid of present suffering that we may ruin the chances for organic, effective, long lasting change? or is intervention indicative of a sentiment that only select people in select regions are capable of overcoming oppression?