Remembering the Iraqi Intellectual Who Stood Up for the Jews

In May 1941, a bloody pogrom, known as the farhud, ravaged Baghdad, leaving 200 Jews dead, hundreds more injured or raped, and shops and homes looted or destroyed. Between 1950 and 1952, approximately 75 percent of Iraq’s Jews left for Israel, but the remainder—some 10,000 souls—lived in relative piece until the 1960s, when conditions took a sharp turn for the worse. Raad Yahya Qassim recounts the attitudes toward the Jews of his father, Yahya Qassim, who between 1945 and 1958 was the editor of the liberal Baghdad paper al-Sha’b:

In 1946, with al-Sha’b in its second year of publication, the political atmosphere in Iraq started to grow increasingly tense in view of the expected creation of the state of Israel. Iraqi public opinion was roughly divided into three views on this matter: the first view was that of Iraqi political parties and newspapers pushing the Arab nationalist approach, who considered Iraqi Jewry and Zionism as one and the same and exhibiting outright hostility toward the Jewish community in Iraq. The second view, predominant in the ruling establishment, looked at the question through a somewhat more moderate and pragmatic lens, taking into account the pressure exerted by some other Arab governments, particularly Syria’s, to follow a hardline policy toward Zionism and the creation of the state of Israel.

The third view was that of a minority, in which Yahya Qassim was a leading example. This view was embodied in Qassim’s daily editorials in al-Sha’b, arguing that Iraqi Jews were—both de jure and de facto—fully equal to other Iraqi citizens, and that the creation of the state of Israel was a separate and distinct question of Iraqi governmental foreign policy. Furthermore, Qassim argued that sympathizing with the plight of the Palestinian Arabs in no way conflicted with the recognition of the full rights of Jews as Iraqi citizens.

There was, however, no significant voice in favor of pursuing good relations with the new Jewish state, although it posed no strategic threat to Iraq, at that time a pro-Western country. But as the younger Qassim relates, his father also “took on the role of lawyer for hundreds of Iraqi Jews” when the Jewish community faced a bevy of anti-Semitic legislation and regulations.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Farhud, Iraq, Iraqi Jewry, Muslim-Jewish relations

How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus