Forget Baghdad: Roundtrip to the Promised Land
niscent ofthe “Pink Panther” theme song. Both the music and the audible dis-play ofthe film’s title and credits, by way oftypewritten font, clinch the detec-tive story-like documentary nature ofSamir’s nearly two-hour film.
This essay attempts to contribute to increasing the visibility ofBaghdad asan originary site ofIsraeli and US Jewish minorities. In “Forget Baghdad,” thehybrid, hyphenated identity ofIraqi-Jews or Arab-Jews is presented within thecontext ofEuropean colonialism and modernity, and situated on the extendedcultural map ofthe Jewish diaspora in the “East” from Baghdad to Teheran andMumbai. I aim to expand the visual archive ofethnography and its represen-tation beyond “writing culture” or “reading culture” to include viewing as animportant aspect ofthe discursive practices ofcultures. Ever since SaddamHussein’s invasion ofKuwait on August 2, 1990, the media representation ofIraq and Baghdad has been ideologically veneered by US foreign policy, con-tributing to an essentialized, Orientalist portrait ofwhat is in reality a finelytextured “culturescape.” As a visual ethnography that takes memory as its sub- ject, “Forget Baghdad” redresses the tendency to represent Iraq and its Jewishminority cultureas abstractions, as a chapter in Jewish history that lacks his-torical context and legitimacy.It is one thing to return to a place that is associated with violence, collec-tive or personal, and another to return to the place that was forsaken for thehope ofa better one. The viewer quickly discovers that Baghdad is a place thatinvokes both trauma and solace. The trauma ofBaghdad inheres in the factofits exile from Israeli memory, but, as the film underscores, it is only throughmemory that Baghdad can be recuperated and reclaimed as part ofIsraeli cul-tural history.Baghdad appearsin the film as a place oforigin, a cultural ref-erence,and a genealogy.
But, as I highlight in this essay,the film is not somuch about Baghdad and everyday life there prior to emigration, but aboutthe memoryofthe city as it is informed by the experience ofbeing Israelitoday,fifty-two yearsor so later.The idea of“going back,” therefore, is part ofawider discussion ofdiscursive legitimacy and recently invented strategies toeffectively participate in the public debates on ethnicities and cultures ofori-gin.
The key questions are what kinds ofnarratives are produced from thiscinematic site,and whatis the natureofthis memory? The main issues atstake are not only the permission to go back, in conjunction with the nostal-gic and sentimental value inherent in going back, but more critically, thebroader matter ofhow the film engages its participants—and viewers—in acontinual negotiation ofIraqi-Jewish and Arab-Jewish identities beyond per-mitted gendered, ethnic, and national discursive limits.