Via Basel: From Baghdad to Chicago
From Baghdad to Chicago: Memoir and Reflections of an Iraqi American Physician
by Asad A. Bakir
Archway Publishing, 2018
A commentary by Basel Al-Aswad
When my friend Asad told me several months ago that his memoir has finally been published (after many years of working on it), I had no idea of the extent, depth, and scope of the subjects it covered. It ranged from his personal story to the grand historical and political aspects of modern Iraq and the Arab world. It included musings on medical subjects from parasitic infections endemic to Iraq to the scourge of drug addictions and complicated renal diseases encountered at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. He then permeates it all with his direct and unadulterated opinions on all of the above. The result of this massive undertaking is a 532 page book, in 39 chapters.
There are a lot of parallels between Dr. Bakir’s life and mine but also a few differences. Both of us were born in Baghdad less than two years apart but in different sections of the city. Our families were educated upper middle class, but mine originally came from the Christian north, his from the Shiite Moslem center. We went to the same Jesuit High school and medical college as well as the army reserves. We both came to the US via England and settled in the Chicago area. However he chose Nephrology and I, Orthopedic surgery.
In spite of the above, I found a lot of information that had escaped me about the events in Iraq in the 1950s and 60s. The details and analysis were right on the mark, but I confess that reading all that was painful because it reminded me again of the disasters and suffering in my old country that have continued for over six decades with the effects and residuals in plain view today. Asad spreads his criticism far and wide with a lot of villains and very few heroes except for the average citizen, but he reserves the most scathing for the leaders, rulers, and dictators of the Arab world. His description of the massacres of the Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south is authentic and chilling. His discussion of global terrorism and its relation to Wahabism in chapter 38 is especially relevant to our present-day politics and the Iran-Saudi Arabia conflict. I personally concur with his conclusion and recommend it to all readers who care about what is best for our country at this critical time.
From my perspective I found the “Baghdad” part of the memoir more interesting and intriguing than the “Chicago” chapters, mostly related to Cook County Hospital, its history and relevance to the author’s training and eventual practice. Others may learn from and enjoy these sections just as much. The short history of the Iraqi and Arab nations from early 19th century to mid 20th, labeled the Arab renaissance, to be followed by its complete dissolution and even regression, is superbly presented and aptly commented on.
My opinion of Dr. Bakir over the years was of a well read, most interesting conversationalist with a keen and incisive intellect. He can be quite forceful and direct in his opinions but also respectful of others and a good listener. These impressions have been cemented even further after reading his authentic, fascinating, and timely memoir.
I read the print version but it is also available in e-format. I have recommended it to family and friends and believe it is an asset to all who are curious about that turbulent part of the world and its effect on current events here in America.
Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Christopher Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family, and now, retired, he will have more time for that. And for the next adventure.