Recently I have been developing some thoughts about identity and the issue of national versus religious identification in Iraq. Specifically, I have been trying to formulate an understanding of the modern day Iraqi psyche and to what, and how, an Iraqi affiliates their identity to. Part of this has been critiquing the ‘Iraqiness and members of the state’ theory of Prof Eric Davis.
As part of my study, I’m also looking at two interlinked and politically sensitive issues in Iraqi society at the moment. One is that of class and the other is the Iraqi-dakhil, Iraqi-kharij issues, or to explain further, the Iraqis who remained in Iraq the past few decades and the ones who are returning from abroad. I say interlinked because typically the Iraqi who has lived abroad is seen by those at home as being more priviledged and affluent, pushing them up in the class ladder, no matter where and what their roots are. I say politically sensitive because the majority of politicians in Iraq have either returned from abroad or are not from the lower classes.
I recognise the need for fieldwork in order to address sociological issues such as these, but giving the first issue a cursory glance meets with the obvious answer that yes, Iraqis do view others through the lens of class. This generalized statement is one you would expect, no different from almost any other society in the world. The discussion of how they class others and on what basis is something I hope to write on soon. As for the second issue, my personal experiences have demonstrated this very clearly. The bitterness some Iraqis at home feel to those who were absent in the years of war, sanctions and Baath brutality, only to come back now and take up various positions in government, but being able to leave at a moment’s notice and return ‘home’, is very strong and something every visiting Iraqi will attest to.
A helping hand in dealing with these thoughts came from the various press in the UK. The British PM provoked a backlash when he described himself as ‘middle class’. The reaction from most commentators was that he most certainly is not middle class (according to the accepted definitions and understanding of what middle class is in the UK). Politicians in Iraq will probably get the same reaction if they ever tried to define themselves as working class or an average Ali.