The inspiring story of the New England Jesuits who founded and ran Baghdad College, that city's premier high school for several decades, is well known to Jesuits. (The Society was summarily kicked out of the country when the Baath party came to power.) The school's alumni are among the most loyal of all Jesuit alumni; and the New England Jesuits known as "Baghdaddys" (alt: "Baghdadis") still speak fondly of their time in Iraq. This morning NPR did a brief story on the school's legacy; it was gratifying to see this chapter in U.S. Jesuit history given its due.
A school founded by Americans in Iraq before the Saddam Hussein era is an emblem of a time when the United States was known in the Middle East not for military action, but for culture and education. That's the view of Puliter Prize-winning New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid, who recently wrote an essay about the school, titled "The American Age, Iraq."
First opened in the 1930s by New England Jesuits, Baghdad College became the Iraqi capital's premier high school. Classes were conducted in English — and the defining feature of the school was not proselytizing, but a rigorous education, Shadid says.
As Shadid tells Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep, the school was a symbol of Iraq's identity — which he says was more secular and universal in the middle of the 20th century than it is today.
The school "also represented something for both the United States and for Iraq, and the way that they saw each other," Shadid says, "that they could allow themselves an almost idealistic version of each other. I think that's impossible today, and I say that with a certain sense of sadness."