Forget Baghdad
A film by Samir

What happens when an Arab moves to a non-Arab country and is faced with choosing between the homeland he once loved and the homeland of his future? Adding a new facet to the already saturated media concerning the war-torn mideast region, this film by Shiite Muslim Samir offers the insiders' outside look at life as an “easterner” in a western society.

On the pretext of a mission to learn more of his father's communist past in native Iraq, Samir travels from his Switzerland home to visit four Iraqi Jewish comrades living in Israel. The interviews evolve from the documentation of the communist party's rise and fall in Iraq to the larger issue of the identity struggles of immigrants.

The film is led largely by the interviews with the four Iraqi Jews, which includes Shimon Ballas, best-selling Israeli author. Complemented by commentary by Professor Ella Shohat, an Israeli-Iraqi-American film scholar, the struggles of newborn Israel to form its amalgamated population into a united society is brought to light.

Samir changes course in the middle of the documentary and finds himself facing strong winds which he is hardly prepared. It is one thing to present four men's experience in the Iraqi Communist Party, it is another to use them as spokesmen for complicated unrelated issues. It is wrong and immoral to bring up the uncorroborated and unjustified accusation of Zionist bombings in Arab countries and leave it as an undisputed fact. For a film that undoubtedly will attract people already sensitive to Israeli-Arab issues, it only serves to further tension between them. It is scary enough that ungrounded accusations abound in anti-Semitic literature, how dare one who makes a film so concerned with the idea of prejudice allow these charges to propagate without presenting an alternate side. Though disguised as an apolitical film I found myself having a little red riding hood moment exclaiming, “My oh my Granny! What big teeth you have!”

It is also wrong to use four men with similar backgrounds and political ideas who may or may not represent a minority of eastern Jews to represent the same immigrant experience. All four of the men came from wealthy assimilated families in Iraq and did not relate very well to the Jewish community from which they came. In my short time as an adult I have met more than four eastern Jews who would not share the same experiences as the ones represented in this film. Yet Samir uses them to speak for the entire eastern population. It is common sense that any minority feels different and alienated. But each individual responds differently to this attention. Only the negative viewpoint is presented in this film, filled with resentment and blame. The testimony in this film makes things out too much to be like a cheesy Hollywood film – good guys against bad guys. Once again, Samir has dug into an abysmal political black hole – Jewish societal tensions.

I'll take from this film what's worth taking and leave the rest behind. Some of the highlights of this documentary include the archival propaganda films, entertainment movies, and personal anecdotes, all interwoven to provide the unique perspective of life from one group within Iraqi-Jewish-Israeli immigrant culture. These voices now arise after being once shadowed beneath the accounts of their European counterparts. Like all voices, theirs deserve to be heard.

Sharon Schneider, sister-in-law to Jordan Hiller, spent last year in Jerusalem and plans on returning to live in Israel to work as a nurse.