Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Now, we are INVESTING!

It seems that education in Iraq is definitely flourishing. After opening the first International Office in Iraq recently, the government has moved on to making a bigger success. I just laid my eyes on the long-awaited news about the Iraqi government investing in the field of education. This article has actually made my day as it marks the actual beginning of the new renaissance of the Iraqi youth and in the same time, Iraq itself. Iraq was one of the Middle Eastern Pioneers in embracing some of the most prestigious universities back in the past century. Iraq, after gaining its independence from the British, assertively used its relations with the developed west to build an educational system that rivaled many other excellent educational institutions and put its graduates in auspicious positions.

Further, the Iraqi government would use its resources to fund scholarships for qualified Iraqis to study in Western Europe to acquire the up-to-date knowledge in their fields of study and then come back to Iraq and implement those skills in the Iraqi society. This endeavor has contributed to creating one the biggest, educated middle-classes in the Middle East by the end of the 1970's.

The question is what happened to all of those people? Well, to begin with, most of them left Iraq as the Baath-party took a major control of the country. It was the norm that if you don't become a Baathist, it would be very hard to advance in your career or even sometimes find a job.
Some of them were unfortunately killed due to their political beliefs. We all anticipated the return of this elite after 2003, but the instability has contributed to their continuing diaspora.

Nevertheless, we had better now think about the present and future of Iraq and think of new means to improve it. And the Iraqi government, among its current successful initiatives, committed itself to sending 10 000 Iraqi students to universities in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the UK, starting with 500-600 students for the 2009-2010 scholastic year. This is hopefully going to serve as the key to renovating an educational system that is more than 25 years old, along with bringing up a learned people that can better rule itself and lead its country towards a promising future.

Just like any other new project, one might have some questions about it. Although the Ministries of Education and Higher Education have not yet declared the selection criteria and the selection process, there is a high chance that they are going to run into the problem of finding the required number of academically-competent students each year. Unless they implement some sort of an ESL program prior to college enrollment, this should no longer be an issue. And yet, the eternal problem of connections in Iraq might contribute to some undeserving students ending up in the scholarship. Fortunately, the big number of required students vilifies this problem as there is a place for many other qualified students.

Another concern might arise as the current situation in Iraq doesn't encourage many skilled people to go back to it after they finish studying in those developed countries. There definitely is some sort of procedure through which the government guarantees the students' return. Logic entails us to think objectively, and this leads us to conclude that there should be some students, regardless of the situation, that won't go back to serving Iraq. Hopefully, this would only be a minority.

In conclusion, this is a proud moment for Iraq towards getting rid of the dark past and initiating a striking future. I believe the government has just made a successful bargain in enlightening its people. As James Madison says ," Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Iraqi Refugees: Catch 22?

As a result of the invasion of Iraq, more than five million Iraqis had to flee their homes. A million of the five, as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees refer to them, is internally displaced while about four million had to flee the country looking for safety and a better and more promising future. Because of Iraq's instability and its political disarrays, most Iraqis were rejected visas to most countries except for Syria, Jordan, and in special cases, Egypt and Lebanon, "More than 2.7 million people are now displaced inside Iraq, and over 2 million have fled to neighboring countries since the war begin in 2003," says Senior Advocate Kristele Younes (Refugees Intl.). Those countries took about 80 percent of the four million as the rest found their way to immigrate to Europe, Australia, and a few could make it to the United States.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees established a few programs under which many of Iraqis can immigrate to the United States and "Start a new life, a better life." Congress has approved to take 21 thousand refugees. Crowds rushed to the United Nations offices in Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and Lebanon, as they opened the doors for applications for the refugee program. Based on how much a family had been persecuted and whether it is safe for the family to return home to Iraq, the UNHCR prioritized the cases that were filed.

It has been twenety months since I stood at the Tucson International Airport welcome area to receive the first Iraqi refugee family that came to Tucson. I remember standing beside their caseworker, four members of a church and the Imam of the local mosque.I watched the father step off the escalator with his backpack and a briefcase in hand. He dropped his briefcase as soon as he knew who we were and ran to shake our hands, saying "Thank you" with a heavy accent.He, like every refugee, had a look of relief and a big smile radiating hope.After he learned I was an Iraqi student, he whispered in my ear, "We are the lucky ones."

A few months after, I realized why he had said that.He wasn't prepared only to be safe, but also had some inaccurate expectations about living in the U.S.

After having lost many loved ones and gone through many crises, Iraqi refugees come prepared to have an easy life here but Gabrielle Fimbres, in her Tucson Citizen article about Iraqi refugees, disagrees, "Adjusting to a new language, culture and community is challenging for these displaced and often traumatized people." (Tucson Citizen). They sign up to qualify for food stamps, health insurance for eight months, and rental payments and salaries for three months. But not often do they realize how long these privileges will last. Nor do they know what they should do in return, since most of them can't read the contracts they sign.

With limited educational programs and orientations, the refugees end up spending their money not carelessly, but rather extravagantly. After three months of being picky about jobs and chasing the same lifestyle they had back home, they find that their salaries and rent payments end. The problem is, the number of refugees is a lot bigger than the agencies can handle. The agencies are overwhelmed, so their performance is not as expected. This leads to misunderstandings and trust issues between the refugees and their sponsoring agencies.

Many Americans believe that it is the responsibility of the United States to bring Iraqi refugees but that is not the purpose that needs to be satisfied. The purpose is to have the Iraqis, who have suffered and continue to suffer, have a better life where their kids are able to receive proper education and they can find jobs to support their families. Sadly, they end up over here, with no money, no housing, no jobs, and no promises of getting jobs soon enough. I have heard many of them complain, "I would rather die in dignity rather than live with hopelessness," says Shaimaa, an Iraqi refugee who currently lives in Arizona

In order to have the Iraqi community become a productive, independent part of society, some steps should be taken. Cultural orientations should take place in the refugees' first stop - such as Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Egypt and Lebanon. The Iraqis should be taught about the difficulties they will face while resettling in the U.S. Once here, the refugees should be offered educational programs about how to handle work, school, housing and finances. There should also be consideration of allowing a reasonable number of Iraqi refugees. It is better to have 10 Iraqi refugees who are satisfied with their lives than having 100 angry ones with no life at all.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Monitoring thoughts in Iraq again!

Iraq went through a lot of scrutiny over its media and books under Saddam's regime.
Iraqis couldn't easily get access to any book they wanted to read if this book contained material that didn't conform to the Baath party's visions. Television in Iraq was controlled by the ruling party and Iraqis had no more than 3 channels to watch. So was the case with the radio. The internet was almost useless since you couldn't access any website that had connections with Americans or even the Kuwaiti and the Saudi governments at that time.

The government's control over people's lives at that time didn't stop just at that point. Only landlines were allowed in Iraq since it could be accessed by the intelligence agency. Cell phones were forbidden for that reason. Regarding the newspapers and magazines available, they were only Iraqi (i.e. controlled by Saddam's people) and Pro-Baath. Overall, Iraqis suffered from the disconnection with the rest of the world and were anything far from the revolution in the world of communication.

After the war, the Iraqi mentality was freed from the tyranny of the Baath Party. People could gain access to the internet, cell phones; formerly-forbidden books and newspapers are available now at the disposal of people who have not witnessed such form of the freedom of thought before.These changes are signs of a healthy society since picking information for the readers should not be a responsibility of the government. They should only offer what the world has to offer.

Today, as I was reading the news, I came across this statement ," The Ministry of Culture prevents the import of pro-violence books into Iraq." It states that the Minister, Tahir Al-Hamoud, confirmed that the ministry intends to do its best to prevent the import of books that contaminate the Iraqi youth with ideas about suicide bombing, racial discrimination, and any material that opposes what the Iraqi Constitution holds. He also said that the Iraqi Government is not going to apply this policy against the books that support political opinions not represented in the current Iraqi governement, including other cultural values.

Now, what does this policy really mean? Does it mean that Iraqis will not be able to read books they like? Does it mean that Iraqis can't read " The God's Dilusion" by Richard Dawkins? or for that matter, any secular book? since secularism is not adopted by the constitution!? or does it just mean that books published by "terrorists" themselves won't be sold?

The Ministry says that they're going to make sure that the books on the shelves of Iraqi Libraries and book shops have no "negative" effect on the Iraqi Society! And that, in my opinion, is a tough job! How can you do that with much objectivity in prospective?! Are they going to hold a conference each time a book's liability is questioned? Or, I don't see how one person can decide what's good and what's not for a whole country?

However, It is a tough decision to monitor what Iraqis read! It's an indirect control on what Iraqis can get their hands on. Let's just hope that it's not the beginning of a tyranny over Iraqi youth and that no further steps will be taken regarding the control of culture on Iraq...Because the Ministry of Culture is supposed to enlighten people, not block their minds!

By: Fadi Al-Asadi

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Iraq's First International Office

Even though the progress carried out the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education and Research seems a bit slow, it is starting to be noticeable. The Ministry's website is overcrowded with buttons to different projects; building new dorms for the universities and colleges across the nation, adopting new curricula, importing new lab and research equipment, and building new institutions. Most importantly, the MHER has revived the study abroad programs, one of the main methods Iraqi maintained a diverse methods of education and enriched the people in the field with cultural knowledge and enlightenment which they carried back to the country.

Unfortunately, most of the programs were terminated a few year into Saddam Hussein's regime. By the beginning of the 90's, all the programs had stopped. It is around the same time when the country's quality ofeducation had deteriorated. AMID EAST, one of the main American organizations that coordinates exchange students programs for Iraqis to study in the United States, was active in Iraq during the 70's, had reopened its offices in Baghdad after 2003 and is currently operating under the permission of the MHER.

As of today, the MHER coordinates many study abroad programs, fellowships, and career development programs with Greece, England, Australia, Sweden, Germany, and a few Arab countries. Those programs give the opportunity to hundreds of Iraqis to travel to foreign countries, take a look at the areas where they are more developed, gain the needed knowledge and experience to transfer the ideas, and eventually applying them at home.

To be the first, the University of Tikrit has opened an International Office on the 6th of the current month. The University announced on the MHER website that the office will help students who are interested in studying abroad to find programs in Canada, Australia, The United States, and The United Kingdom. The office will also help the students with filing their applications and the admission process.

These, in my opinion, are very beneficial achievements. Change is best advocated and achieved through education. As an Iraqi studying abroad, I have already seen many areas of advancement that I can carry back to my country in the future. I am pleased to see some tangible progress; however, it is not enough.

Monday, July 13, 2009

FACT: Christians in Iraq are IRAQIS!

Dear Reader,

You might have heard in the news that bombings are part of the daily life in the post-war Iraq. As a matter of fact, people anticipate it and would be wondering have they not heard anything alike that day! Recently, when Iraqis say they want to know about the news, they actually mean they want to know about the BOMBS in Iraq and who they targeted that day. Although many Iraqis, regardless of their religious denomination, have been targeted by daily road-side bombs or any other random act of terror, minorities have been affected the most. And that's the topic of my post.

It is very sad to hear that people get killed based on their spiritual belief in Iraq nowadays. I know it is a fact, but we're now living in the 21st century, where this issue should no longer be considered a critereon for attacking innocent lives. It is also true that such incidents have previously occurred at some point in the so-called "developed country's" history, but they realized that seeking religious differences and fighting over them would get them nowhere! They learned a lesson! a precious one! That's when they became great!

In iraq today, 4 churches bombed killing 4 people and injuring 21 (BBC). That's not the first time it has happened! Churches have been bombed before in 2005, 2006 and 2007!
Now, the quesiton is "why?" It's Iraqi Christians who attend those churches. they're a minority and they have not the slightest effect in the current government's decisions!
Do those terrorists want them to leave Iraq? maybe! But that's not going to happen anytime soon. It's true many have already flee to neighboring countries, Europe and the states, but many are also still there. And they will stay there as they have always been in Iraq for 200o years!

Conclusion? They are Iraqis and they have lived throughout all the ups and downs of Iraq. They contributed to its prosperity and peace. Enough with the allegations that they are Pro-west and Pro-American! The west became Christian after Iraq! Assyrians and Chaldeans(Iraqi Christians) are old tribes that inhabited mesopotamia a very long time ago and even when they acquired Christianity, they have added their customs and cultural values to it, resulting in a rather unique form of Christianity that doesn't perfectly resemble the west!
So, yes, these people are Iraqis no matter how hard those terrorists try! They are part of this society and will never be cut out from it by these fierce actions.

This is a message to some people who like to question the historical background of Christians in Iraq. And we all know that the majority of Iraqis are saddened by such terrible actions, but it is always good to remind oursleves and the world that we are a country of different ethnicities.
Yes, we have all coexisted for a long time in the land of two rivers, and it is time to revive this concept again. the concept of respecting each other aside from religious belief. That's when we can start to really believe in ourselves as a people capable of advancing while defending ourselves from all the devastating ills other countries might impose on us.

Fadi Al-Asadi