When Nationalism collides; The Farhud, Iraqi Jewry and Politicized Violence

By Orit Bashkin
Submitted to Session P3137 (Moments of Politicized Violence; Nationalism, Sectarianism and Memory in the Modern Middle East, 2012 Annual Meeting
My paper studies the Farhud, a series of urban riots directed against Baghdadi Jews during which nearly 180 were killed. The word Farhud means looting or robbing, but it came to designate specifically the killing, wounding, and robbing of Jews in Baghdad on the first two days of June 1941 and the looting of Jewish property in Basra the previous month. The Farhud, I argue, was a direct result of politicized sectarianism, the violence of which reached epidemic proportions. At this time Iraqi Jews were attacked by their fellow citizens, and more importantly, came to realize that elements in the Arab-Iraqi nation-state, to which they had pledged their loyalty, had betrayed them. The Farhud, however, was also a moment of intercommunal solidarity. It was a time when countless Muslims risked their lives in order to protect their Jewish friends, neighbors, and business partners and when friendship, loyalty, and religious and tribal notions concerning protection of the peoples of the book overcame nationalist xenophobia.
My paper will attempt at challenging both Iraqi and Zionist national memories which have silenced important aspects of the Farhud. While acknowledging that the army and the police should have been held accountable for their actions, the Iraqi state made little mention of the participation of the urban poor in the riots, since doing so would have meant acknowledging its failed social policies. Zionist historiography has highlighted the Farhud as a watershed in the history of the Iraqi-Jewish community. From the Zionist standpoint, the Farhud was viewed as having galvanized the Zionist movement in Iraq and ultimately as causing Iraq’s Jews to recognize that their country had rejected their attempts at integration. My paper, in contrast, will investigate the socioeconomic realities that influenced the Farhud, and will demonstrate that generation of Iraqi Jewish intellectuals, who considered themselves as Arab nationalists and Iraqi patriots remained loyal to their visions of Arab and Iraqi society and to their critique of Zionism, even after the Farhud. Finally, my paper will consider how participants in the event itself experienced the Farhud and how Iraqi Jews represented the trauma in their writings at the time.
The paper is based on British and Zionist accounts from this period, as well as on Arabic and Hebrew autobiographies and the contemporary Iraqi press.