Monday, June 30, 2014

Iraq's Legacy of Literacy and Illiteracy, of  Nation building and Nation un-building

I have had a few articles posted on Common in the last few weeks.  My last one, Human Narrative Still Missing in Iraq, tries to convey the enormous losses suffered by Iraq and by Iraqis.  Reading Faiza's post this morning as she reflects on who the new angry people are that are marauding in Iraq,  reminds me of the everlasting impact of our experiences--both negative and positive.  As an educator, I am particularly aware of how early experiences and critical  things such as education, access to adequate food, shelter and safety contribute to who and what the child will be as she or he grows and mature.

Who, I wonder, in  terms of ordinary citizens,  men and women struggling to live in Iraq, does President Obama and Sec. of State John Kerry imagine is in a position to pull their shattered country together.  In addition to the militarization of Iraq, the vast destruction of the infrastructure and institutions , there has been an incredible brain drain of academics,  artists, engineers and doctors to name just a few professions. Many of those who did not flee were killed; there is a list in tribute to murdered academics in the excellent book Cultural Cleansing in Iraq: Why Museums were Looted, Libraries Burned and Academics Murdered, edited by Raymond W. Baker, Shereen T. Ismael and Tareq V. Ismael.  The opening essay talks about the job of "state-destruction" as opposed to the well-understood idea of "state-building"…the task Iraq was set on before the 1990 war.          

         "To be remade, a state must be rendered malleable.  Obstacles to this goal in Iraq included an impressive intelligentsia committed to a different societal model and the unifying culture they shared.  The actions of the occupying forces indicate they understood that the emergence of the new Iraq would require liberation from the grip of the inherited intelligentsia and culture of a unified Iraq.  Iraq under occupation would see both human and cultural erasures that advanced these goals.  Thus, state destruction in Iraq entailed more than regime change and more than political and economic restructuring.  It also required cultural cleansing, understood in the Iraqi case as the degrading of a unifying culture and the depletion of an intelligentsia tied to the old order." (page 6)

Culture and literacy have been  synonymous with Iraq from the beginning. What many people don't know, on some level one of the great ironies of the calamatiy in Iraq,  is that the first piece of literature, the poetic drama of creation, The Epic of Gilgamesh (2000-1400 B.C.) was written in ancient Mesoptamia, the site of the modern country of Iraq. And, probably next to no one knows that in 1982 Iraq was awarded a prize by UNESCO for eradicating illiteracy.  This was achieved as a result of three acts of legislation:  The Illiteracy Eradication Law, 1971, The Free Education Law, 1974 and The Compulsory Education Law, 1978.  As a result of this legislation, education was mandatory for both girls and boys through grade 6, and free through university.

 Everything changed after the first Gulf War.  UNESCO bemoaned  the decline  saying" The education system in Iraq prior to 1991 was one of the best in the region, with over 100% gross enrollment rate for primary schooling, and a high level of literacy, both of men and women. The Higher Education, especially the scientific and technological institutions, were of an international standard, staffed by high qualification personnel.   In 2004 they put the literacy rate at 74% and by 2007 Education International estimated the rate had fallen to 65% (54% women and 74% men)

This should come as no surprise. Iraq's Ministry of Education reported only 30% of school-age children were attending classes in early 2007.   84% of higher institutes of education and schools were damaged and/or destroyed in the two wars(UNESCO). Lots of parents kept children home out of fear for their safety; many children left school to earn money to help support their families. Those who attended classes often sat in building without running water or heat or adequate supplies including books.  Books and supplies such as pencils could not be imported under the UN Sanctions.  As a result, everyone in this once literate culture has fallen behind.

Fallen behind is a gross understatement. Children out of school for years, missing exams, unable to re-enter the system out of shame for their lack of academic skills.  Teachers without adequate facilities for students, without up-to-date text books or with no text books at all.   This includes teachers in the medical colleges.  Imagine "keeping up" with your profession, trying to train new doctors and nurses in Iraq during the years 1990 to 2013  without medical journals, or current text books or any professional connection to the outside world.

All the media babble about bringing democracy to Iraq, and our own government statements both then and now calling on Iraqis to pull together, to take control and  re-build their country are nothing but hogwash. 

Democray depends on a literate society and  functioning institutional structures. We have bombed and sanctioned Iraq back into a state of illiteracy and dismantled the very structures necessary to re-build.  Our project of state-destruction is complete.  Mission, in this case,  accomplished.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Good morning
I was thinking about this phenomenon of extremist people who appeared suddenly in our countries and pulling all the attention in the international media and being a strong actors and  threat to our countries.
Let me take Iraq as an example. We have never seen such kind of extremist groups before 2003. Even when  we had oppositions against  Saddam, they were either from the Iraqi army or from religious parties connected with Iran.Most of the time the oppositions failed to make any change on the ground and Saddam punished them severely.
But now after 2003, we have another style of oppositions such as Al-Qaida and ISIS who entered Iraq and achieving a brutal activities against the government and the civilians as well. I was wondering : why  these people are acting in this aggressive way ? we are human, and I can understand why somebody decides to behave in such tough way ?
These people are a mix of Iraqis and non Iraqis. The Iraqis are either from the previous Iraqi army or from the victims of Abo- Graib prison.  While Non- Iraqis are coming from countries where they have witnessed brutal treatment also from their governments of outsiders such as Chechen or Afghans.
So, this is the consequence of  the brutal treatment against  detainees in Iraqi prisons (under the supervision of the US troops ). I bet you this is a well planned strategy to keep Iraq stuck with  a vicious cycle of endless violence and destruction.
Now I can understand the motive of these extremist people, they have passed through tough days in prisons inside and outside Iraq, and now they came to take revenge. Somebody invested them and sent  money to achieve their dreams.
I guess there is a connection between who humiliated them in prisons and who sent them the fund to fight.
Thank you America for this smart strategies !
Our Countries and people are paying the price of these policies and strategies.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Good morning
I know it's difficult for any outsider to understand what's going on in Iraq unless he/ she has read the history of Iraq. It is obvious that the geographic location of Iraq had made it's political life always unstable.
We have in the North Turkey, which is a strong regional actor, in the East Iran, another strong regional power, and recently in the South strong Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia / Qatar/ and Emirates.
All of these regional actors have their own agenda and interests in Iraq , they all are seeking for a partnership with Iraq and its leaders to keep their interests protected and maintained.
Before the war on Iraq and the invasion of it in 20013, Saddam was a strong leader who kept all these neighboring forces away from the intervention in Iraq internal issues.
After the invasion, the US established the basis of new Iraq based on sectarian and  ethnic division. New leaders are fighting among them on the power. Even the new institution is a bad one, based on ethnic and sectarian division. What is the outcome of this strategy in Iraq since 2003?
Here is it, now in 2014, we are seeing the consequence of US policies and strategies in Iraq: a weak and fragile state, with weak and fragile army ( the US leaders in Iraq disbanded the Iraqi army in 2003 and encouraged sectarian and ethnic  structure ).
And because of these new principles since 2003, the Iraqi political new leaders are affiliated with regional forces. Shiaa are connected with Iran, Sunni are connected with Saudi Arabia, and the Kurd are connected with the US and Israel.
On the international level, Iran is backed by Russia , Saudi Arabia is backed by America, those are the main forces fighting inside Iraq after 2003.
How can you build a strong/ independent/  democratic country in this stupid and sick context ?
This is what the US planted in Iraq, and this is what Iraqi people have cultivated.
And the US is trying to help Iraqi leaders now to fight ISIS ?
It's too late, and ISIS is the last tool, to divide Iraq to three states: Kurd, Sunni, and Shiaa states.
then America can celebrate : mission done, no more Iraq on the map.
Exactly as the scenario of old Yugoslavia, it's not on the map any more. We can see only small states such as Croatia , Serbia, Black mountain and so on !
Have a good day

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Tragic Opportunity

It seems  Iraq has always been old news.  I remember Kathy Kelly, co-founder of Voices in the Wilderness, recounting an event from the mid-1990s when she was visiting a hospital in Iraq.  The media was following her as she was a well know activist, and was in Iraq in violation of UN Sanctions.  But, they weren't following her into the hospital: We've already done that story, they said when she invited them to come along to see the numbers of sick and dying children in the hospital.

How many times can one tell the story? How many times will a reader, accustomed to "breaking news" take the time to read again about an issue that seems far removed from them?  The corporate media is focused on the latest head-line grabbing story.  A car bombing, with many dead is worth a report.  The unfolding story of children --two children, then four, then eight and sixteen-- ever increasing numbers of children sick and dying from cancer  in a hospital  with ever-decreasing  medical capacity is not something the media is willing to write about. It's not necessarily something most people want to read about. And, to make matters worse, the children are sick, but many of them... look fine, i.e. you cannot tell by looking at them that they are dying.  It is a horrible thing to say, really.  Bloated bellies, skin hanging from napalm gets the message across in  a single, horrifying glance.

To say things--everything-- has been in rapid decline in Iraq since the first Gulf War and the imposition of US supported UN Sanctions is to grossly understate the facts.  Yet, throughout this period aside from a few committed journalists-- the late Anthony Shadid, Robert Fisk or John Pilger-- very few seem to notice or to care.  Iraq has been old news for twenty four years.  The story reads something like this:  We TRIED to help them, but they're hopeless.

But, now!  What I am calling a tragic opportunity.  All eyes are once again on Iraq: remember Iraq?  The coverage is the same, as if it were a sporting event.  The media has identified the teams:  Sunni, Shia and Kurds, we know the coaches and even the team "owners".  We hear daily of wins and losses, advances and retreats.  There is endless speculation about the possible outcomes of events.  What we don't hear about is the people struggling to live in this devastated country.

I hope our blog will bring you in touch with Iraq and with Iraqis.  We hope to share  our own thoughts and insights as well as those  from Iraqis and internationals who have been and continue to partner with Iraqis through  these terrible and terrifying times.

Drawing and photographs of Faisa Amir in her bed at Al-Mansour Pediatric Hospital, Baghdad 2004

Fiasa died of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia a few weeks after I took this photograph.  She was 8 years old.

The drawing is by her brother, age 10.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

This is our new Blog where my friend Claudia is sharing her thoughts- with me- on this blog. Our goal is to open a window on Iraq now, to discuss what is going on  after the intervention of ISIS coming from Syrian borders.. I know that many people are confused and have no clear idea, even from Iraqis . The story of Iraq is very complicated as the existing conflict has multidimensional perspectives : first dimension is the internal one, second is a regional one, and third is the international one. Players are many, and each one has his own agenda.
I will write  more details in the next posts from my personal point of view as an Iraqi . I am Iraqi, this is my identity, I refuse any sub-identity such as Sunni and Shiaa, These ugly titles came after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and now Iraqi are paying the price of that stupid policies. What is going in Iraq now is the consequence of that wrong strategies adopted by American political leaders and Iraqis political leaders as well.


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