Iraqis wrestle with Jewish factor
By Nir Rosen
BAGHDAD - When Imam Mahdi al-Jumeili of the small Hudheifa mosque in Baghdad's Shurti neighborhood met three American officers to resolve a dispute over soldiers entering the grounds of his mosque, his first question to them was "are any of you Jews"? When he was satisfied that none were, he allowed the meeting to proceed. Prior to the arrival of the Americans, he made his prejudices about them clear: "We are sure they came here to steal the country and protect Israel," he said, adding that "Judaism and Masonism are at war with Islam".
These views are common in Iraq, where references to "al-Yahud", or "the Jews", are made everywhere and they demonstrate the degree to which the outside world is misunderstood and feared by Iraqis whose views were shaped by years of authoritarianism, control and fear, with little access to information not dictated by Ba'athist or religious sources.
And the prejudices appear to still flourish. For a journalist, not a day goes by without mention of Jews and Israel. Even taxi drivers talk about the Jews when they grumble about the occupation. "We are Muslims!" one declared proudly during an evening ride to a hotel, "and Jews come to our land?" When asked who he was referring to, he said, "They are all Jews. The Americans are all Jews and mercenaries. We know their religion." When asked if he wanted a Sunni or Shi'ite leader in Iraq, this driver said. "We are all Muslims, it makes no difference. Only the Jews want to separate Sunnis and Shi'ites, they are non-believers."
Another taxi driver explained that "America and the Jews are one. We know this from their interests, their relationships and America's defense of the Jews. They don't give rights to Arabs, only Jews. America and Jews are the same because they have the same goals and the same faith." A third taxi driver explained that the Jordanian embassy was bombed because Jordan was organizing the migration of Jews into Iraq.
In the market of Abu Ghraib, a town west of Baghdad, when asked about the Americans, one angry man replied: "Saddam was better. At least he was a Muslim. Isn't that better than Jews?" When pressed on the issue, he explained that "the Americans are Jews, their work is Jewish. Nobody accepts them". The prayer leader of Abu Ghraib's local mosque agreed. "They are all Jews and Christians, these occupiers," he said.
Signs on the walls of the Abu Hanifa mosque warn Iraqis that Jews have come to the Ekal Hotel and they plan to purchase land, just as they did in Palestine, to drive Iraqis out of their country. "Do not stab your fellow Iraqis in the heart" by selling land to the Jews, exhorts the sign. A visit to the Ekal Hotel proves that it is closed for renovations and has no guests. The same signs warning of Jewish real estate agents invading Iraq are distributed by university students.
On the walls of the mosque in Maalef, a Shi'ite slum in Baghdad, large spray-painted graffiti says, "Kill the Jews". In Baghdad's Mansour district, at the Rahman mosque, faithful Shi'ites heard Sheikh Ali al-Ibrahimi condemn a recent decision by the Iraqi Governing Council to permit certain non-Iraqi citizens to obtain Iraqi citizenship. Ibrahimi warned that "if Jews reside in Iraq then they will become Iraqi citizens and they will own Iraq and we will be their guests". He explained that the founders of the US initially feared letting the "owners of money" enter the country, but that "this happened when the Jews came. The Americans and others became their guests".
In the large slums of Sadr City, Seyid Hasan Naji al-Musawi, the leader of the Muhsin mosque in this Shi'ite neighborhood declared that the Mahdi, Islam's version of the Messiah, "will be coming soon and when he comes he will kill the Jewish leadership", which he equated with the Americans, adding that Julius Caesar was Jewish, and the Jews were the Romans. Al-Musawi quoted a verse from the Koran prognosticating the eventual defeat of the Jews.
A common belief in Iraq and the Arab world in general is that when held to a mirror and reversed, the Coca-Cola logo says "No Mecca No Mohammed". This is attributed to the alleged Jewish ownership of Coca-Cola. It is said that all night long trucks smuggle Iraqi oil through Jordan into Israel. And the rumors continue ad nauseam. The fact that the Old Testament contains references to Jewish hegemony over the lands between the Nile and the Euphrates does little to ease concerns.
Works purporting to be scholarly are available in every book market, elaborating on themes of the Jewish threat. The ubiquitous Protocols of the Elders of Zion detailing a Jewish plot to rule the world, long proven in the West to be a fabrication written at the behest of a Russian czar, is sold in Arabic. Volume one and volume two. Another book called The Crimes of the Jews is on display on Baghdad streets alongside a book about Drugs and the Sons of the Devil. On further reading, the book reveals that the Jews are the "sons of the devil" the title refers to. A book in Kurdish is also available, its cover bearing a Star of David, and inside it a monster with blood dripping down its fangs. The book is called In the Jaws of the Jews.
The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a member of the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, sells a book called Jewish Nights, refuting various Jewish claims about their history, and in Najaf, the office of the cleric Seyid Muqtada Sadr sells a book called Ali and the Jews,detailing Ali's conversion of Jews to Islam.
Iraqis are clearly very concerned about Jews. Islam is traditionally ambivalent to the Jews, condemning them often in the Koran but mandating a modus vivendi with them at the same time, relegating them to an inferior and protected status called dhimi. Hostility between different religions is a normal phenomenon, resulting from their competition for the same market of believers and their inherent belief that their religion purveys the truth and therefore the others are necessarily false.
As the oldest of the three monotheisms, Judaism was viewed with derision by the other two for its rejection of their newer prophets. In the Christian West, this led to anti-Semitism, the belief that Jews are a race or nation to be disparaged. Judaism was a stain that could not be removed by mere conversion. Martin Luther lamented the existence of Jews whom he viewed as a "damned, rejected race". In Islam, with its explicit rejection of races, it led only to anti-Judaism, the belief that the Jewish religion was the problem and if individual Jews became Muslims and recognized Mohammed, then they were no longer Jews and these individuals would be treated just like any other Muslim.
With the creation of Israel, the Jewish state, and with its successful defeat and occupation of Arabs and Muslims, as well as its oppression of occupied populations, Jews became a threat rather than an anachronistic and vestigial relic. Arab and Muslim authors incorporated European racist and anti-Semitic theories about Jewish conspiracy theories to explain the existence and strength of Israel, as well as its influence over American policy. While the Koran is a vast book with statements that can lead to variegated interpretations, those seeking them can find many verses in the Koran to give these theories religious blessing and validity.
"Strongest among men in enmity to the believers wilt thou find the Jews and pagans" instructs the Koran in 5:85, implying that Jews and pagans are of equal stature and that Jews are the enemies of Muslims, leading to the conclusion that they are therefore God's enemies as well since they are the enemies of those who believe in him. In 2:97-8 God declares that he is the enemy of whoever is the enemy of the Angel Gabriel. And this is generally interpreted to refer to the Jews.
The Koran, the Old Testament and the New Testament are all quoted to prove the treachery of the Jews. The Jewish worship of the golden calf after God had made a covenant with them (2:92-3) and their recurring violations of pacts made with the Prophet Mohammed (8:56-8) prove that Jews are not to be trusted. In 2:96 Jews are unfavorably compared with idolaters. "Of all people the most greedy for life - even more than the idolaters" are the Jews. In Verse 88 of "the Cow" chapter, the Koran describes Jews as follows: "They say our hearts are the wrappings (that keep God's words) nay God's curse is on them for their blasphemy. Little is it they believe." Verse 2 of this chapter asks "is it not that every time they make a covenant, some party among them throw it aside?" In 2:58 the Koran attributes punishments wrought on the Jews for their blasphemy: "and abasement and poverty were pitched on them, and they were laden with God's wrath; that because they had disbelieved the signs of God and slain prophets unrightfully; that because they disobeyed, and were transgressors".
Jews are viewed as unbelievers, disobedient and treacherous, rejecting God and his messengers. In 2:87 the God states "and we gave Moses the book and followed him up with a succession of messengers; we gave Jesus the son of Mary clear signs and strengthened him with the holy spirit. Is it that whenever there comes to you a messenger with what you yourselves desire not, you are puffed up with pride? Some you called imposters and others you slew." In 4:157 it is stated that "they boasted 'we killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the messenger of God'." In verse 58 of "the Table" chapter the Koran states that God himself has cursed the Jews. Verse 86 of that chapter implies that Jews "shall be the companions of hell fire". Verses 79 and 80 describe the "evil" works and deeds of Jews. Verse 51 of the chapter "women" accuses Jews of believing in evil.
In 5:66, God scolds the Jews for not obeying their Torah and therefore rejecting both Jesus and Mohammed. Verse 56 of "the Spoils" chapter describes how Mohammed fought and defeated the Jews at the battle of Khaybar. In 5:78 both David and Jesus curse the Jews for "disobedience" and "excesses".
Thus the basis exists, for those who choose to use it, to promote the hostility and palpable fear of Jews that confront journalists in Iraq on a daily basis. The many Iraqis who now have access to satellite television can also watch a Syrian Ramadan series aired on the Lebanese Hezbollah-owned channel "Al-Manar" that provides a tendentious version of recent Jewish history. "Al-Shatat" or "the Diaspora", as the series is called, tells the story of Zionism from 1812 until the establishment of Israel. The series contains familiar themes of Jewish plots to dominate the world. The first episode began with a description of a 2,000-year-old Jewish creation of a world government and attempts by Jews to provoke wars among non-Jews. Subsequently, Jews are shown plotting to kill non-Jews, dominate various countries, oppose other religions, and incite Germany to enter a succession of wars. Actors play famous Jewish figures, such as the wealthy Rothschild dynasty, the founder of Zionism Theodore Herzl and the falsely-accused Alfred Dreyfuss. Jews are shown committing brutal acts of murder and dismemberment against non-Jews and Jews who betrayed the race. Such a program is consistent with a wide body of literature produced in the Arab world, including recent Iraqi newspaper articles.
After the war, with the flowering of new Iraqi publications, newspaper articles contained numerous Jewish themes, helping to spread the panic that Jews were indeed invading the country. The independent Iraqi daily al-Yawm al-Aakher reported, that "the frantic campaign to resettle the Jews [in Iraq] has aroused the annoyance of Iraqis, particularly the clerics". Al-Adala, a newspaper published by the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution, warned that "a number of Jews are attempting to purchase factories in Baghdad". The article went on to describe an eyewitness who observed Jews purchasing factories. In fact it seems nearly everyone in Baghdad has a friend or relative who was an eyewitness to Jews buying land.
An editorial in al-Rassed also warned that Jews were attempting to purchase land as a result of the occupation. Dar al-Salam, a newspaper owned by the Iraqi Islamic Party, reported that Mosul's association of clerics issued an edict prohibiting the sale of land to non-Iraqis because it may end up in the hands of Jews. Meanwhile, al-Sa'ah warned Iraqis to check Taiwanese and Chinese-made appliances for concealed Stars of David because the Israelis would be surreptitiously selling their products in Iraq.
Another rumor going around is that Michel Aflaq, the now-hated founder of the Ba'ath Party, was a secret Jew who had converted to Christianity. It is also rumored that in Israel, Jewish brothels are built to look like mosques, even with the minaret, or tower. Shi'ites believe that a final battle between Jews and Muslims will occur when the Jews come to the city of Kifil on the Euphrates to visit the tomb of an alleged Jewish prophet. Here Muslims and Jews will fight, and the Jews will hide behind rocks, which will speak and say "there is a Jew behind me", and the Muslims will be victorious.
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