The Freemason

A family secret, hidden for decades by a grandfather in Iraq, gets uncovered by his grandson – who chooses to revive a potentially dangerous legacy.

This episode was produced by Alex Atack and Tamara Juburi, and edited by Dana Ballout with additional support from Nadeen Shaker and Zeina Dowidar. Fact checking by Tamara Juburi and sound design by Mohamad Khreizat.

Support this podcast on patreon.com/kerningcultures for as little as $2 a month.

Transcript

Click to Expand

Note: our transcripts are made with a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may not reflect the audio with 100% accuracy.

***

[STING]

[Historic recording of a freemasonry chant]

ALEX ATACK: Cool, so we’ll probably make up a name for you in the story, but if you have a preference for what you want that to be, tell me.

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): A good pseudonym – I don’t want it to sound too very made up in the same time I wanted something. I also want it to be a bit special. So let’s try to call it a Solomon.

ALEX ATACK: Solomon. Okay, cool. I like that all right. 

DANA BALLOUT: This is producer Alex Atack, speaking with Solomon. Solomon is not his real name – we’re keeping him anonymous, and it’ll be obvious why later on.

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): I was born and raised in Baghdad in Iraq I was born in the late eighties and I stayed in Iraq all the way until 2006. During that time during the first 10 years of my life, I was living in my family in my family house. And that was during the times of the previous regime – during Saddam Hussein’s government.

DANA BALLOUT: In the summer vacation between June and September, there wasn’t very much to do. The television stations wouldn’t start broadcasting until the afternoon,  and it was so hot in those summer months that if he wanted to go out and ride bikes or play football with your friends, you’d have to wait until the evening. So during the day, Solomon needed to entertain himself.

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): So in my situation, it was customary to go and raid the family library. My grandfather was a member of the Iraqi government from the sixties all the way until the late seventies and, and he traveled a lot and he studied in the United States. So we had a big, library with a very good collection of Arabic and Western literature.

DANA BALLOUT: Solomon and his cousin, who was around his age, would spend their mornings in the family library paging through books. Then later in the day, they’d talk about what they’d read over lunch with their Grandfather.

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): And it was one time, it was 1999. I was about 11 years old where I came across the term freemasonry in one of the books. And it was in Arabic, it wasn’t in English.

ALEX ATACK: What is freemasonry in Arabic, sorry just to jump in?

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): Al masoniya.

ALEX ATACK: Al masoniya, ah okay. Cool. Alright.

DANA BALLOUT: In the book, he found all these old diagrams of some common freemasonry symbols. You’ve probably seen some of them before – the most famous one is the square and compass with a big letter G in the middle. He saw these, with this word al masoniya next to them, not really sure what it meant.

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): So it was so our plan was let’s discuss this with grandad over lunch today. And my grandfather is a very open-minded person. On this one subject, however, when we went through when we were having lunch, I asked my grandfather, what is masoniya? What is freemasonry? And at this moment, his reaction was very much unexpected. His eyes widened open and he had that expression of completely taken off by surprise. And his reaction was, when did you read this term? Where did you, which book? So we pointed out to the book and yeah. He kind of closed the book, he took it, put it under his arm and said don’t you ever utter these words again in Iraq and never say anything about this. And I don’t want to I don’t want to discuss this even further, and lunch is over.

ALEX ATACK: Wow.

DANA BALLOUT: This word – al masoniya or freemasonry – and the mysterious diagrams of the all-seeing eye and the pyramids stayed in the back of his mind. Years later, they’d send him on a search to figure out why he’d found them in that book in his family library, and why his Grandfather had been so adamant to never speak of it again.

I’m Dana Ballout, and this is Kerning Cultures. Stories from the Middle East and North Africa, and the spaces in between.

[INTRO STING]

DANA BALLOUT: Our story today comes from producer Alex Atack.

ALEX ATACK: About a decade after that day in his family library when he was young, Solomon moved from his family home in Iraq to study in Lebanon.

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): My days in Lebanon were kind of a renaissance for me or at least for my own curiosity.

ALEX ATACK: He’d never discussed freemasonry with his grandfather, but he was always curious about it. And at university, when he started reading more about history and philosophy, he kept seeing that same word and those same symbols coming up in some of the books he was reading.

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): And then I started this at that moment. I started to read more about it, about what is freemasonry? What is it? What is the philosophy of it? How do you get initiated?

ALEX ATACK: And what he found was that freemasonry is kind of hard to define: it’s not a religion, but it is religious. It’s not a political movement, but it’s members are full of politicians. Basically, it’s a 300 year old fraternal organization – kind of like a men’s club – whose members are bound by a set of common principles.

But there was also something mysterious about it. Freemasonry is infamous for it’s secrecy. You’ve probably heard about the secret handshakes or the rituals that happen behind closed doors. And as Solomon read more into freemasonry, he kept seeing these names of famous politicians, academics and philosophers popping up in his books. People like Mozart, George Washington, Saad Zaghloul.

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): And it wasn’t until I moved to the United States. Now, there is where freemasonry started to get – I started to get much more interest in it. 

ALEX ATACK: Solomon moved to the US in 2014 to work, and pretty soon after he arrived, he decided that he was going to quench this curiosity. And so he reached out to his local masonic lodge.

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): By just Googling Masonic lodge near me and there was a handful of more than 10 within about 30 minutes driving distance.

ALEX ATACK: A masonic lodge, by the way, is basically like a clubhouse for a local freemasonry chapter. They’re all over the US and Europe – some states have more than one. He wasn’t necessarily interested in being a freemason at this point, but he thought he’d at least get in touch and see what he could find out.

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): I lived in the United States alone and I had some free time in the evenings and I said, you know what? This is it. I’m going to email a lodge and, you know, request a meeting and basically see what, see if I can get a tour, if I can speak with a couple of them, a couple of freemasons.

ALEX ATACK: So they arranged a date and a time for Solomon to come in. And when he showed up at this local lodge, what he found was a nondescript red brick building on the corner of a quiet street in a leafy suburb of the city. There was a florist and a funeral home on the opposite side of the road. The building itself is square, with a flat roof. It looks a bit like a community hall. There’s an arched doorway, a big wooden door, and above it an American flag and the masonic square and compass symbol. He stepped inside, and met one of the people he’d been emailing with.

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): Basically I had two hours discussion. And we would meet in the lodge, or we walk about the lodge and talk about the history, talk about my background, their background, what does it do for me, what I can do for the craft. They’re not trying to pitch masonry for me, and I’m not trying to show a big interest. It’s just a discussion, and it’s always ends up if you are more interested, you’re welcome to come and join the dinner.

ALEX ATACK: A lot of masonic lodges will meet meet once a month over a dinner where they’ll do stuff like, voting on new members or catching up on admin. Sometimes there will be a presentation or guest speaker talking about the ritual or history of freemasonry. So the next time Solomon’s local chapter met, he went along as well.

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): And so you come, you’ll meet with other members of the freemasons and you introduce yourself. Some of them come in and say, ‘oh, are you a candidate or you’re inquiring, let me tell you about my story.’ So you start collecting stories and data about how did you become a mason? Why did you become a mason? And if you’re convinced enough, if you can ask to fill a petition and after you fill out a petition.

ALEX ATACK: And by this point, Solomon was interested enough that he wanted to try and join.

WILLIAM BURNS: My name is William Burns, and I do have a particular title. I am called a worshipful brother, which means that I have sat in the head chair of my lodge, at least once.

ALEX ATACK: So that’s quite, is that quite a senior position within the lodge? Is it the most senior position?

WILLIAM BURNS: It is. It absolutely is.

ALEX ATACK: Oh wow, okay. Okay.

ALEX ATACK: William was already a freemason at Solomon’s local lodge – he’d already been a member for a few years. I spoke to him to hear more about the process of becoming a freemason. Now, there are a few other prerequisites to becoming a freemason. In mainstream lodges, it’s a hard and fast rule that you have to be a man – women can’t join. After that, you also have to believe in god. It can be any god, any religion – you just have to believe in what they call a grand architect. Then there’s a few more things.

WILLIAM BURNS: You need to be a resident in that state for, I believe at least six months, you have to be over 18. And I’ll just say this part, you have to be of sound mind. If that makes sense.

ALEX ATACK: Can I just ask, actually, what does of sound mind mean?

WILLIAM BURNS: Of sound mind, meaning that you have a good head on your shoulders. You are not crazy. That’s what I’m trying to get at.

ALEX ATACK: The main thing that attracted Solomon to it was he put it, every time he’d read about some important historical event, the freemasons seemed to have played a role in it. And he liked the character building aspect of it as well – he saw it as a way to help him become a better person. So the first step after that initial meeting is, he had to get two people who were already freemasons to vouch for him. It’s kind of like references in a job interview.

WILLIAM BURNS: You get a couple brothers to sign your petition, who agree that you would be a decent fit. After that, it goes to the lodge and your petition is voted on. After its voted on and it’s approved, they will assign an investigation committee: a group of brothers that will literally come to your house, hang out, talk to you. It’s a chance for them to kind of see.

ALEX ATACK: It’s a pretty thorough vetting process. And there’s an expectation that you take it seriously – that once you’re in, you’re in.

WILLIAM BURNS: We call it a fraternity, but it’s kind of like a gang. Once in, never out. And just like in gangs in any fraternity, if you do something extremely horrible, you will get outed one way or the other. 

ALEX ATACK: So after you’ve filed your petition and the investigation committee have come to your house and interviewed you and interviewed your family, the next thing they’ll do is they’ll hold a vote at the next meeting.

WILLIAM BURNS: They take it back to lodge again, and then it’s voted on. And that’s where some of your fun stories come in of being blackballed. Have you ever heard of that term?

ALEX ATACK: I don’t think I have.

WILLIAM BURNS: Okay. Well, being blackballed is if anybody – it’s a silent vote in a way that there’s this box and you have black objects and white objects. If any of the black objects show up in the box, that means that you’re not going to get initiated. You don’t get to join. If its in a positive way, the following month, you’ll get initiated – you’ll go through the first degree.

ALEX ATACK: And this initiation is where things are a little bit secretive. Basically – it’s a ceremony where you’d have to memorize a portion of a secret masonic ritual and recite it in front of the group, sometimes blindfolded. In some cases, they might have to present an original research paper to prove they’re well studied in freemasonry.

There are three levels of this – or, they call them degrees in freemasonry. The first two are the Entered Apprentice and the Fellow Craft degrees. The last level is called the Master Mason degree.

Advancing from one degree to the next can take anything from days, months or years – it basically depends on how dedicated the person is.

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): Once they prove proficient for the Fellow Craft degree, the big one comes, or the Third Degree, the Master Mason degree, which is pretty much – it’s like your senior year in college. This is the last one. This is the big one. And this is a really big one. And the Master Mason degree, the ceremony or the lessons in it’s quite marvelous and very, very impactful, even if you are blindfolded or not.

ALEX ATACK: And, as he was going through this initiation process, he still didn’t fully understand why his grandfather had been so spooked by his questions about freemasonry all those years ago. To him, it just seemed like a positive thing – a pathway to making himself a better person. 

And then, while he was going through his degrees, he’d signed up to various Facebook groups about freemason history. One day, he was scrolling through one of them, and this name popped up: the name of his great-grandfather.

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): Well, I read about him to be a freemason through a Facebook post and that’s – you take your Facebook posts with a with a with a gallon of salt, not a grain of salt.

ALEX ATACK: He knew a bit about his great-grandfather already: he knew that he’d grown up in the suburbs of Baghdad in the first half of the 20th century. That he’d studied in Lebanon and the United States and later became the Prime Minister of Iraq. For the same reason we’re keeping Solomon’s name anonymous, we’re not naming his great-grandfather here either. But he was also a well respected diplomat who was passionate about education in Iraq and protecting Palestinian rights. This is him speaking on zionism at the UN during the 1950s.

ARCHIVE: It’s the view of the Iraqi government that the Middle East can have no peace or tranquility, and that world peace will always remain in jeopardy, until and unless Arab rights in Palestine are completely restored. And until the Israeli danger is completely removed from the Middle East.

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): Of course we, I knew much about him – I mean I lived in the family house, so we had photos we had photos, we have we had relics and what we call  medals of honors from different countries, given to him by Camille Chamoun of Lebanon and King Hussein of Jordan, and of course, Tunisia. So I know that he was a big name in the political and the diplomatic world.

ALEX ATACK: But in this Facebook post, it said that his great-grandfather was a freemason, and that he’d been part of a lodge in Basra, and that in the early part of the 20th century, there were lodges all across the Middle East.

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): For me, that was a part of a personal puzzle that I needed to solve. Was he really a freemason? And if he was a freemason, how involved was he, and what happened to the lodges in Iraq? What happened to the lodges in Syria or Lebanon?

ALEX ATACK: So after he was initiated as a freemason in the US, Solomon started asking around his local lodge and the wider freemasonry community in the US.

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): And interestingly didn’t get a straight answer, but I got referred to, you know, ‘try to talk to this brother from this lodge and try to talk to this person from that lodge’, and I get multiple referrals until I ended up communicating with certain freemasons who lives in Haifa.

ALEX ATACK: This man was an Iraqi Jew who was forced to leave Iraq after the overthrow of the monarchy in 1958. And he remembered the Masonic lodges that were there before the regime change.

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): And I was shared with photos of the grand lodge of Basra, the grand lodge of Baghdad.

ALEX ATACK: In the photographs you see men stood in a neat formation, wearing bowties and immaculate dinner suits and their masonic tunics. One of the men is holding a staff. Another is holding a sword.

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): When I mentioned my family name, it was a straightforward – his question was, ‘is this person related to you?’ And my answer is that this is my great-grandfather. And he told me that yes, I mean, he was a freemason and he was active – a very strongly active freemason to the degree of being a Master or a Grand Master.

ARCHIVAL RECORDING: Without warning, revolution has swept away the young King Faisal of Iraq, and his uncle Crown Prince Abd Al-Ilah.

ALEX ATACK: But he was a freemason in Iraq at the worst possible time to be a freemason in Iraq. In 1958, the pro-British monarchy was overthrown in a coup.

ARCHIVAL RECORDING: The tide of Arab nationalism is once again in flux – the King is reported a prisoner. 

ALEX ATACK: And the new regime took a hard line against anybody who was involved in the old regime. Including Solomon’s great-grandfather.

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): And that is one of the points he got prosecuted [for] after 1958. And one of his accusations, is that he is not just an Anglophile, he was also a freemason. He was prosecuted. He was sentenced for execution and he was wearing their red jumpsuit and waiting in the in the prison cells until his sentence day.

ALEX ATACK: We’ll be back, after the break.

[MIDROLL]

ALEX ATACK: When we left off, Solomon’s great-grandfather, who was an influential politician in Iraq in the 1950s, had just been prosecuted and sentenced to death after the regime change for – among other things – being a freemason. We wanted to understand what was going on here – what was going on in this particular moment in history. So we called up a couple of historians.

CHRIS HODAPP: People have been sort of freaked out by Masonic secrecy almost since the beginning.

ALEX ATACK: Christopher Hodapp is a historian and author of freemasons for Dummies. He’s been a freemason himself since 1998.

CHRIS HODAPP: In England, when the first grand lodge was formed in 1717, within five years, there were newspaper articles, you know, people making fun of them or people saying, you know, they’re not doing, they’re doing something nefarious behind closed doors. And it sort of has continued ever since – many times, repackaging the very same claims and stories that were written about in the 1780s and nineties.

ALEX ATACK: So, freemasonry started in England in 1717, and became particularly popular in the US over the next hundred years or so. And when Britain and France began colonizing countries in the Middle East in the early 1900s, they started setting up freemasonry lodges around the region.

DOROTHE SOMMER: During the Ottoman empire, I think it was like a Christian concept that came to the Middle East via mainly missionaries and a lot of Muslims or Druze or also Maronites looked at it with suspicion and didn’t really trust it because it came with the foreigners – I think that changed quite quickly.

ALEX ATACK: Dorothe Sommer wrote her PhD on freemasonry in the Middle East. And she told me that although these masonic lodges that European colonialists set up were regarded with suspicion at first, quite quickly – intellectuals, journalists and politicians started to join the fraternity.

DOROTHE SOMMER: At one point, they were the largest society in the Middle East – besides of course the religious congregations. And they collected money and they did donations for schools, for hospitals. So if you were that kind of person who wants also to give and help others, and also you’re sociable you like the sociability, to talk to others and meet with others – then that’s your thing.

ALEX ATACK: And it was attractive to all these men in high up positions in politics, business and media, because it gave them a place to meet and network with each other.

DOROTHE SOMMER: When I’m in Beirut and I’m an intellectual or I’m a journalist or whatever.  How do I connect with people? It’s through the lodges. How do I connect with people when I’m a trader and work on a ship in Tripoli, who’s close to the sea and who’s built on trading? I go to the lodge there. I can do my business. If I’m living on Mount Lebanon, for example, where there’s a lot of land owners, how can I connect to the other land owners? I go to the lodges.

ALEX ATACK: But by the 1940s and the age of decolonisation, freemasonry was starting to be outlawed in a lot of countries across the Middle East.

ALEX ATACK: And so I’m curious how it went from being something that was actually quite popular, even if it was secretly popular, how did it go from that to becoming something that was completely taboo – that, in Iraq you have people being sentenced to death for being affiliated with freemasonry?

DOROTHE SOMMER: The there’s one researcher called Margaret Jacob and she said once that the lodges are playgrounds for democracy. Because what they have is elections – within their own circles – but they have laws, they have elections, they have rules, they have moral behavior, they kind of practice moral and political emancipation. And I think if, if you have a ruler, if it’s a king or a monarch, or if you have a dictatorship, you don’t want to see that.

CHRIS HODDAP: In all reality, dictatorships – they don’t even like private stamp collecting clubs because they know sooner or later those guys are going to get together and they’re going to talk about politics. And so, part of the situation in the past with dictatorships, is that the freemasons frequently would be upper middle class men you know, sometimes often involved in positions in the government or in businesses or you know, other potentially influential areas. And so the last thing you want them to do is have private meetings that they promise not to tell anybody what goes on in those meetings. And so they become the first guys on the list that you want to shut down.

ALEX ATACK: In the meantime, there was this other conspiracy theory that was starting to get more popular at the time, and actually it’s still around today. Basically it’s this idea that freemasonry is a front for an Zionist organisation.

CHRIS HODAPP: And it’s, and it’s funny because you don’t start seeing those kinds of objections until after the 1940s. You’ve got the Balfour declaration and then you have essentially the formation of Israel, then all of a sudden, those kinds of stories start coming out that, well, this is the real problem with it, it’s a front for a Jewish organization – or, more importantly a Zionist organization.

ALEX ATACK: It has no basis in fact. But part of where that conspiracy theory comes from is because of some of the basic foundations of freemasonry.

CHRIS HODAPP: The very basic, the fundamental structure of the fraternity is based around a biblical story about the Temple of Solomon, built on Mount Moriah, which happens to be the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and so that’s kind of where that conflict really at its most base level is based.

ALEX ATACK: So just to make sure I’m understanding it right. So it’s like – Solomon’s Temple is very important in freemasonry and Solomon’s Temple is also very important in Judaism and therefore for Israel. Is that the connection? 

CHRIS HODAPP: Yeah.

DOROTHE SOMMER: But no, it had nothing to do with the Zionism and also the elders of Zion. And then these, all these conspiracy theories, I think it serves the ones who use them, but there’s no truth behind it.

ALEX ATACK: But by the time this theory had planted it’s roots, didn’t really matter whether or not it was true. Leaders across the Middle East used it to their advantage, and by 1980 freemasonry was punishable by law in many countries, including Iraq. Solomon’s great-grandfather was trailed under this law, back in 1958 – and he sentenced to death. But then…

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): After he was sentenced to death, many Kings and well known diplomats one of whom was Indira Gandhi, King Mohammed the Fifth, King of Morocco, King Hussein of Jordan, of course were Bogeiba or Tunis – petitioned the Iraqi government to release my great-grandfather and from his death sentence and be able to basically to be granted exile in Tunisia.

ALEX ATACK: So through this political pressure, his great-grandfather was released from prison, his death sentence was withdrawn, and he moved to Tunisia.

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): Where he spent his, his life there teaching at a university until he passed away in 1997.

ALEX ATACK: An obituary the New York Times described him as “a mild, scholarly man with a schoolmasterly mien who sought friendly relations with the Western world, setting him apart from many other Arab leaders who remained deeply suspicious of Western intentions.”

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): I actually smiled when I read these resources of the New York Times or talking to that gentleman living in Haifa. I took it with a smile, kind of a moment of proud and it’s also a despair for having to go through that – all this time and hardship, just to know about someone as close as your great-grandfather.

ALEX ATACK: And so did that kind of did that kind of make you more interested in joining the freemasons yourself?

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): Of course – for a personal point, it gave me validation to be more a freemason. You know, interestingly the reason, Alex, I requested not to use my name to tell you that, maybe even some members of my family, I don’t share with them. I don’t share the fact that I’m a freemason with many members of my community because fear of prosecution, fear to be labeled that you’re doing the wrong thing, although you still feel you’re doing something clandestine.

ALEX ATACK: The more he got into freemasonry, the more he would have to maintain a firewall between these two identities; Solomon the freemason, and Solomon the Iraqi.

ALEX ATACK: If you were to talk about it with any of your family in Iraq, or maybe even any of your friends in Iraq, what would their reaction be?

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): Well, it’s, it’s always a debate before I decide, or I want to talk. And the reason is not that I am ashamed of it or try to hide it, nor that it’s a reason – I know they will be against it. But it’s for me a way to protect them because our not just protect them from a danger that is guaranteed, but protect them from thinking about a danger that could affect them or affect me just because I’m a freemason.

ALEX ATACK: What would that be – those risks?

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): Well, the risks are many. The term freemasonry is is synonymous with Zionism. And these two synonymous words are even mentioned in the Iraqi code of criminal charges, stating that anyone who harbors Masonic, Zionistic ideas or support or promote will be sentenced to death.

ALEX ATACK: But that risk was worth it because of the community he’d found in freemasonry, as unlikely as it was. In 2016, Solomon was still a relatively new immigrant to the US, moving to the country at a particularly turbulent and divided time in its recent history.

ARCHIVAL RECORDING: Chicago, Friday night. A Trump rally canceled after protesters clash with Trump supporters.

ARCHIVAL RECORDING: Hilary killed our babies!

ARCHIVAL RECORDING: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): It was a very difficult time. 

ARCHIVAL RECORDING: You could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.

ARCHIVAL RECORDING: You know what they used to do with guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): It disrupted relationship between families, and I find this to be very bad for the fabric of society. So these people who have been talked about as someone who would clash completely, if it’s over the dinner table or at the cafe or the bar, are people at my lodge, people who I’ve seen their Facebook posts, for example, and see that person is posting about something that I completely disagree with But when we went meet at lodge, there’s always a hug, there is always a smile.

ALEX ATACK: Here’s Chris Hodapp again.

CHRIS HODAPP: In the very first formal documents of the fraternity, it lays it right out and says that it is a place that men will meet who would have otherwise never met each other, never contacted each other in any way, shape or form. And so the first primary two rules are no discussion of religion and no discussion of politics, and that holds true today. Many people, not just me, we see freemasonry today as a place where people can go that’s a sanctuary from all the crap in the outside world.

ALEX ATACK: In the US around 100 years ago, 1 in 25 men was a freemason. Everybody had a freemason somewhere in their extended family. But today, their numbers are dwindling. There are only around 4 or 5 million freemasons worldwide, and with only one or two lodges anywhere in the Middle East, freemasonry has almost fallen through the cracks of history. For Solomon, even though it’s this positive force in his life, it would be impossible to take it home with him if he ever moved back to Iraq.

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): I mean, I can talk about my goal is to – it’s kind of a naive goal – just as like, as you are in high school and say, I want to win Nobel Prize. My Nobel Prize in masonry is probably to be able to re-establish a grand lodge of Iraq or Baghdad or Basra, or a grand lodge of Lebanon or the Grand Lodge of Syria, who have a very rich history.

ALEX ATACK: Is there a world though that you can move back to Iraq one day and maybe start the first lodge since, you know, the previous one? Is that a possible future or is that completely off the table?

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): Well, if anything that’s proven is that there is no impossible. I may be helpful to leave some historical context or start the groundwork for this to happen in the future. But I mean, the way I see the political future in Iraq, I don’t see a hope to establish the grand lodge of Baghdad or the grand lodge of the Levant or the grand lodge of Syria in the next 10, 15, 20 years – not even in my time, maybe.

TAMARA JUBURI: You talk about masonry like its a very personal, private thing and obviously this journey really began when you moved to the States without your family. 

ALEX ATACK: This is Kerning Cultures’ researcher Tamara Juburi who was in on the interview as well.

TAMARA JUBURI: But at the same time this curiosity was sparked from the family history. And I’m curious to know if you think this was a circumstantial accident or if this is something that will play a role in your life forever?

SOLOMON (PSEUDONYM): That’s a good question. It does feel that I that I am living some kind of the legacy that my forefathers had and it satisfies me and makes me proud. Of course if I have my kids here in the United States or any part of the Western world, that conversation is different because the society is much more tolerant of it. But if I have my kids in the Middle East, I wouldn’t be even thinking of talking about it just the same way that certain part of my family members doesn’t know about it, certain friends – for the same reason we’re using a pseudonym for this interview is not to have to be deal with this kind of worry of being known as a Mason or just talking about freemasonry. Again, it’s not a matter of raising awareness, but it’s a matter of protection. If I am my grandfather in modern day Iraq and I have my grandson as coming in and saying, basically if that situation were reenacted in a way, I’m sure my reaction would be the same thing as my grandfather.

I don’t want my grandson, if they are in Iraq ever to talk about freemasonry without knowing the consequences. And being at that age, 11 years old, of course, no child at the age of 11 can understand that the consequences of uttering the word Masonic in Iraq. So to reflect back of it, I think my grandfather’s reaction was well justified, especially that he was always a promoter for me – always continue to read and study. Even before we talked about freemasonry, is that, you should always read, you should always investigate. You should always inquire and ask and try to find answers and solutions, not just by reading, by meeting with people, communicating with people and connecting with people.

DANA BALLOUT: This episode was written and produced by Alex Atack and Tamara Juburi, and edited by me Dana Ballout with additional support from Nadeen Shaker and Zeina Dowidar. Fact checking by Tamara Juburi, sound design and mixing by Mohamad Khreizat and Alex Atack.

ALEX ATACK: A special thanks to everyone we spoke to for this episode: Solomon, William Burns, Dorethe Sommer and Christopher Hodapp. We didn’t have time to go very deep into the Masonic rituals and history in this episode. There is so much to go into if you’re interested in that. I’d recommend Christopher’s book; freemasons for Dummies.

DANA BALLOUT: Thanks for listening. We’ll be back with a new episode next week. Take care.

[STING]