Memory and the Reconciliation of Diasporas: Cinematic Trace of Arab National Identity in the Film Forget Baghdad
- Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East
- Duke University Press
- Volume 30, Number 1, 2010
- pp. 85-91
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Forget Baghdad: Jews and Arabs—the Iraqi Connection (2002), a film by the son of an Iraqi political exile living in Europe, was broadcast several times on prime-time television on the most popular Arab satellite television news channel, Al-Jazeera. As part of a budding new Arab cinema with an eye for accentuating a heterogeneous Arab identity, this émigré film was a turning point in its unequivocal focus on Jews as part of Arab national identity.
With the creation of the state of Israel, allusion to Jews as part of the Arab social mosaic increasingly became a taboo in Arab cinema. While various Arab films occasionally challenged this taboo, particularly over the past thirty years, Forget Baghdad essentially brought forward an original approximation of the topic. It inadvertently entwined Arab émigrés (both Jewish and Muslim) from different Arab diasporas, analogous geographic origins, and multiple displacement fluxes.
Through a collage of interviews, still photographs, old newspapers documents, and a rich array of archival film footage, Forget Baghdad interweaves a dialectic between three Arab diasporas. The first is that of four Arab Jews living with their families in Israel; the second is that of Ella Shohat, a film and cultural studies scholar of an Israeli Iraqi Arab origin who now lives in the United States; and the third is that of the filmmaker himself as the son of an Iraqi Arab Communist exiled in Europe.
This essay looks at how the film takes a cinematic journey through various diasporas through time; through memory; through the relationship of the past, the present, and the future; through continuity and rupture; and through the personal to the historical. The essay then surveys how the intricate structure of the film, the circularity of its form, and the boldness of its syntax result in creating a cinematic disquisition about a heterogeneous Arab national identity tested in the homeland by arbitrary postcolonial border, ethnic, racial, and religious divides and reconciled in exile by the reality of alienation and displacement.