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.

One comment

  1. The demise of the Iraqi Jewish community is certainly worth mourning. Very thought provoking stuff.

    Not sure why the remarks about Eastern European Jews and their “contrived traditions” were needed. Also, haven’t the Kurds been beaten up enough? Suffering is not a zero-sum game.