Saturday, May 31, 2014

An Intellectual Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan


Peacebuilding and Education in Iraq Conference
Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending a conference, “Peace Building and Education in Iraq,” that was sponsored by the Center for Conflict Resolution and Negotiation at the University of Dohuk, and the Center for Global Affairs at New York University.  I also had the opportunity to give a talk at the Institut Francais du Proche-Orient in Erbil.  Both of these opportunities shed much light on current social and political developments in Iraq.

Since my last visit to the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in 2008, there has been tremendous development.  I spent the first 2 days in Erbil with my colleague, Dr. Faris Kamal Nadhmi, who is a social psychologist at Salahiddin University with whom I am conducting research on Iraqi youth.  Dr. Faris, who formerly taught at Baghdad University, has developed a large network of academic colleagues in the Arab south and throughout the KRG.

The talk that Faris organized at the French Institute preceded the conference and was held in a stunning setting.  The Shihab Chalabi house is a beautiful example of  Ottoman era architecture located in the center of the Erbil Citadel (al-Qala’a), purportedly the oldest continuously inhabited town on earth.  

Dr. Faris Nadhmi introducing my lecture
Originally owned by a notable family, it has been carefully restored through an agreement between the Iraqi government, the KRG and the French government.  It houses the Institut Francais du Proche-Orient whose director, the prominent anthropologist, Dr. Hosham Dawood, gave me a tour, including the impressive library that is being established.
 
The lecture, “The Future of Democracy in Iraq,” was held in the courtyard of the Chalabi home and was followed by a spirited discussion.  Many faculty and intellectuals were in attendance from Kurdish universities, literary associations and civil society organizations, in addition to some university students.  A number of the attendees were former members of the Iraqi Communist Party.

Dr. Hosham Dawod - Director, Institut Francais
What was striking during the question and answer session that followed the presentation was the contradiction between the strong support for democratization, on the one hand, and pessimism about the possibilities for positive change, on the other.   Arguments were made that the system of organized corruption in Iraq is so pervasive that citizens have few options at their disposal to challenge it. 

I responded by pointing to the myriad Iraqi civil society organizations, intellectual circles and political movements, outside the circles of state power, that are engaged in articulating a vision of a democratic, non-sectarian Iraq, often at significant peril to themselves.  I noted that this activity constitutes what Antonio Gramsci calls a “war of position” and must precede the implementation of any meaningful change in society.

Gramsci differentiates between a “war of maneuver” – the actual attempt to change a political system, either through revolution or via the ballot box – and a “war of position.”  Unless citizens spend considerable time and effort developing a counter-hegemonic vision – one that resonates with large sectors of the populace – efforts to bring about change will fail because no well thought-through policies will be available to put in place for those of the defunct ancien regime.

The courtyard of the Shihab Chalabi House, the Arbil Citadel
The “war of position” involves extensive efforts to develop a vision of the future – a counter-hegemonic narrative to juxtapose to the would-be hegemony  of the state.  While the war of position may at times seem futile given the lack of systemic change, forces that seek to promote democratic change, and a political culture based on the norms of tolerance, pluralism and negotiation, will not be able to act if opportunities for change arise, without having carefully fashioned an effective counter-hegemonic discourse.  Of course, I noted it is easy for a Westerner to come and lecture in Iraq, compared to the obstacles, sometimes even fines and imprisonment, that Iraqi democracy activists experience on a regular basis.

al-Mada Editor-in-Chief, Fakhri Karim
Following my lecture, I had the opportunity to spend the remainder of the evening at the home of Fakhri Karim, Editor-in-Chief of Iraq’s most impressive newspaper, al-Mada, and president of Dar al-Mada that publishes a large number of important studies on Iraqi and Arab politics, culture, society and history.  The current state of Iraqi politics was the topic of the evening with arguments that continued until the early hours of the morning.

The next day, before Faris Nadhmi, his wife, Nareen, who also teaches at Salahiddin University, and I left for Dohuk, we visited the Dar al-Mada Bookstore in Arbil run by Nuri Karim, Fakhri’s brother.  The bookstore is very impressive and offers a wide array of volumes, most in Arabic.  On a stand in front of the bookstore, I discovered a great journal, Nirjis (Narcissus), that is concerned with women’s issues.  

The April 2014 issue consisted of a damning critique of the proposed Ja'fari Personal Status Law that was introduced by the Minister of Justice, Ali al-Shammari, and subsequently approved by Iraq’s Council of Ministers, much to the chagrin of much of Iraq’s citizenry.  It contains excellent articles by a number of Iraqi women activists, including a former judge and lawyers.

Peacebuilding and Education in Iraq conference participants
Arriving in Dohuk, we were presented with an impressive 3 day conference, organized by the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies, the University of Dohuk, and the Center for Global Affairs’ School of Continuing and Professional Studies at New York University.  While an enormous amount of effort went into organizing the conference, the main organizers were Dr. Jotyar Sadeeq, the Director of the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies and Dr. Thomas Hill of NYU’s Center for Global Affairs.
Dr. Thomas Hill visiting the University of Dohuk

Beginning on Tuesday morning, May 13th, and ending on Thursday evening, May 15th, participants attended a wide variety of panels and workshops.  In 12 panels in all, and 2 workshops – “Leaving Iraq to Study Peacebuilding,” led by Tom Hill, and, “ Establishing Creative Space for Peacebuilding,” led by Michelle O’Connor-Hill, Brisa Munoz, Kristy Kadish and Naddia Siddiqui, 19 of 45 presenters were women (professors or practitioners), 10 were faculty from the University of Dohuk or Kirkuk University, and  20 were faculty from Arab universities or organizations in the south.
The conference boasted a large and impressive contingent of foreign scholars and practitioners.  They included particpants from the UK, Italy, Pakistan, Israel, the US, Malaysia, Switzerland, Poland, Columbia, and Lebanon.  Given the centrality of the Palestine-Israeli conflict to the Middle East, I thought the presentation by Gershon Baskin of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information was particularly important, both in terms of its substance and what it symbolized about confronting, rather than avoiding, resolving long-standing crises in the Middle East.

Dr. Sherko Kirmanj
It is not possible to summarize all the excellent presentations. , However, I did find some of the papers especially enlightening.  Dr. Sherko Kirmanj, School of International Studies, Utara University, Malaysia, delivered a critique of KRG school textbooks, “The KRG’s Islamic Education Textbooks and the Question of Peaceful Coexistence in Kurdistan.”

His content analysis of Islamic education textbooks illustrated that, contrary to the proclamations of the KRG that it promotes tolerance and cultural pluralism, the texts used by the Ministry of Religious Affairs that he analyzed promote an interpretation of Islam that provides no cultural space for minority religions, i.e., the Christian, Yazidi and Shabak religions.

It was particularly telling when Dr. Kirmanj demonstrated the limited space allotted to minority religions in the small section at the end of the textbook.  As he noted, the end of textbooks are usually not completed during the KRG academic year.  Indeed, unlike earlier sections of the textbook, he found no student underlings or notes in this final section.

Dr. Ammara Farooq Malik
Another excellent paper,  was presented by Dr. Ammara Farooq Malik and Katarzyna Szutkowski of the Seeds of Education, Policy & Legal Awareness Association (SEPLAA) Foundation in Lahore, Pakistan.  The presenters discussed the foundation’s successful efforts to reorient poor, unemployed youth away from terrorist organizations and bomb building to jobs that promote community development.  

What was especially significant about this presentation was the foundation’s eschewing of a Western development discourse in favor of situating its efforts and communications in terminology that draws upon local cultural expressions and terminology.  This focus on what the anthropologist Clifford Geertz called "local knowledge" indicated SEPLAA's sensitivity to the cultural dimension of peace building.

In “Reconciliation through Education in Iraq,” Christine van den Toorn, professor at the American University of Sulimani (AUIS) from 2009-2013, discussed efforts at the university to build cultural bridges between Iraqi Kurdish, Arab, Yazidi, Turcoman and Christian students.   Her paper demonstrated how students from different ethnic and confessional groups were able to bridge the lack of trust through sharing their respective histories of suffering  (see her post on The New Middle East, May 23, 2014).

In his photographic essay, Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, founding co-Director of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), detailed the efforts of Palestinian and Jewish Israelis to create a mutual dialogue through an examination of their respective narratives as reflected in history textbooks.  While he detailed the obstacles those committed to peace education in Israel and Palestine face, the achievements of his organization to date are impressive nevertheless.
Gershon Baskin with President Mahmud Abbas

Naseen al-Daghastani and Dr. Rami Boulus al-Baazi
“Learning Through Joy,” a paper presented by Dr. Rami Boulus al-Baazi and poet-activist Ms. Naseem Radeef al-Daghastani, spoke to the issue of how early childhood education can offset authoritarian tendencies in society by countering the impact that such education often has in stifling a child’s innate, inborn curiosity and creativity.  In their paper, the presenters offered a variety of strategies to make early childhood education a liberating process rather than one that forces the child to conform to restrictive social and cultural norms.
Another excellent paper, “The Effectiveness of Peace Education Programs in Decreasing Aggressive Behavior in Iraqi Children,” was presented by Dr. Rana al-Abassi of the School of Education and Ms. Nagham Hassan of the Department of Educational Psychology,  both of al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad. 

Developing an experimental study of 80 children between the ages of 10 and 12 in Baghdad, who were divided into control and experiment groups, the presenters demonstrated how they used peace education to offset aggressive and sectarian behavior through teaching children to respect difference and the rights of others, engage in problem-solving exercises, and develop an understanding of alternatives to violence in solving problems.

Panel 1 - delivering my paper "In Search of National Reconciliation"
In my paper, “In Search of National Reconciliation: the Use of Historical memory, Education and Civil Society in Building the New Iraq,” I criticized both Kurdish and Arab history school textbooks for failing to inform students about the cross-ethnic, tolerant and cooperative nature of the Iraqi nationalist movement, especially prior to 1963.  I summarized this positive historical memory and tried to demonstrate how it informs a large number of civil society organizations in which Iraqi youth currently play a central role.
Panelists Kelsey Shanks, Christine van den Toorn and Eric Davis answer questions 

I argued that the “sins of omission” that characterize history textbooks used by Arab students in the south and Kurdish students in the north are meant to promote a political agenda that supports a narrative of the past in which the 2 ethnic groups were always in a state of conflict.  I sought to demonstrate that this narrative is not supported by the historical record.  One of my suggestions was to develop a website with downloadable material in Arabic and Kurdish that teachers could use in classrooms to offset the “knowledge vacuum” that currently characterizes history textbooks in Iraqi schools, both Arab and Kurdish.
Dr. Faris Nadhmi, Naseen al-Daghjastani and Nasreen Mamkak
The Peacebuilding and Education in Iraq Conference was a truly seminal event.  While the panels and the debate that they engendered stimulated many new concepts and ideas, the interaction between Kurdish, Arab and foreign scholars and practitioners during coffee breaks and during lunch and dinner created new academic relationships and furthered the important discourse of building peace in Iraq, a country that has known war almost continuously since the onset of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980.

I learned much about the academic environment in Kurdish universities.  In some classes, female instructors who do not wear the veil (al-hijab) are harassed by a small but abusive group of so-called Islamist students  (I say "so-called" because most of these students have little knowledge of Islamic doctrine).  These students write on blackboards before class that the instructors will “burn in Hell” as a result.  In class, when students are asked to study minority religions, Islamists refuse to answer questions about these religions on examinations. (These remarks paralleled those of a professor at Tikrit University who I met at another conference in Iraq last February who indicated that he has to confront students who are taught ideas about Islam in the home that are totally at variance with Islamic beliefs).
 
In other instances, Islamists reject the study of linguistics, e.g., the theories of Noam Chomsky, arguing that “only God can create languages.” Nevertheless, a professor of communications at a large Kurdish university indicated that, over the past 5 years, the number of students in his classes espousing intolerant Islamist ideas has declined.  All Kurdish faculty members with whom I spoke pointed to the powerful impact that social media is having on their students.

Unfortunately, most Kurdish universities have not developed curricula that produce high quality graduates.  Many students are still accepted based on political ties rather than on merit.  Faculty with whom I spoke expressed frustration with the instructional process and the lack of empirical research conducted by social science faculty beyond the university, e.g., survey research. 

One conclusion I reached is that it is important for the KRG to remain within a (truly) federal Iraq to continue to provide serious Kurdish students with the opportunity to study in Arab universities in the south.  Even today, many Kurds continue to attend Mosul University despite the danger in the Mosul area (one Arab professor told me that 3 people were shot dead in front of him as he walked down a main street in Mosul).

It was rewarding to see the close ties that many Kurdish and Arab professors have developed, especially those from Mosul University and the University of Dohuk that are only 30 minutes apart on the highway that connects the 2 cities.  Indeed, many Kurdish professors still have homes in the Mosul area stemming from the period prior to 2003.

The conference on Peace Building and Education in Iraq was a unique event.  Dr. Jotyar Sadeeq and Dr. Thomas Hill, supported by a terrific staff lead by Alex Munoz at the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies at the University of Dohuk, and Anna Mosher at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University, have made a major contribution to promoting peace education in Iraq.  It was a privilege to have been able to participate in this intellectually and personally rewarding event.  






Wednesday, May 28, 2014

How long Will We Remember Dunya?

This is a very disturbing article written by  Ruwayda Mustafah Rabar for the Kurdish new service Rudaw (Event)

An unnamed 45-year-old man murdered his 15-year-old wife on May 23 in the
district of Kalakji in the city of Duhok. I will spare readers no details, because it
is important for people to understand what a little girl endured at the hands of an evil man.

For years, we have seen countless incidents of Kurdish women violently
beaten, raped, killed. And for reasons unknown to me, nothing changes with
how we approach these cases. The incident will be all over the news for a
week, maybe two weeks, if women are lucky, and then suddenly people forget
about it.

Dunya was brutally killed -- her breasts cut off, genitals cut into pieces, shot
nine times, her body tied to a car and dragged around, eyes removed. When
her body was washed for burial, the undertaker who washed her body told
Rudaw that, as she poured water over her body, she could hear the grinding of
her broken bones.

Immediately following the murder, the Union of Islamic scholars in Kurdistan
demanded an investigation into the murder, and Kurdish society once more
practiced their time-contingent outrages that seem to
change like the British weather.

Following the news, a demonstration was announced on Facebook, dubbed
“Stand up for Dunya” outside the Kurdistani Parliament in Erbil -- alongside a
vigil for people to pay their respects. In an effort to make ourselves feel better -
- less responsible and more proactive – I am sure many meetings and
workshops will be arranged in the future in light of this incident.

However, what I am more concerned about is, once the media find something
more interesting to talk about, and when the Kurdish society’s moral outrage
withers away, what will happen to the countless young girls stuck in marriages,
or the thousands of Kurdish women who find no haven to escape abusive
marriages and partners.

It has become inbred in our culture that by escaping a violent marriage, seeking
shelter houses, calling the police, demanding equality, we are shaming our
families. In fact, we are shaming our families by accepting horrific violations of
our personal sovereignty and integrity. We have been misguided to accept that
certain acts are not cohesive with Kurdish culture, but the truth is, violence
against women is not cohesive with Kurdish culture.

Our society is very polarized in this regard -- from those who claim that
Kurdistan is backward in every regard and have little room for women -- to
those who claim Kurdistan is a liberating haven for women. Neither side seems
to depict the truer and more complex situation of Kurdish women.

We’re still transitioning into a fully democratic society that respects the rights of
women and embodies universal standards. This does not mean we accept violations
of the rights of women simply because we are “transitioning,” but rather the first
part of the solution is to understand the problems we are facing.

Significant numbers of Kurdish women are highly educated, and there are many
who hold prestigious jobs, and many Kurdish women are independent,
hardworking and successful women. However, we still have women and girls
who are, similar to many countries in the world, forced into marriages or given
no choice but to endure abusive marriages.

The pressing question, I’m fully
aware, is not about whether Kurdish women or Kurdish society is progressive,
but rather about this particular case and how we should respond to it.
There is no doubt that in the coming weeks Dunya will stop making headlines.

Her case, like the previous cases of two young girls murdered and thrown into
a lake, or the recent case of a Syrian refugee who was raped, will be forgotten.
It is important for the Kurdish government and charities to support endeavors
that are specifically designed to let young girls like Dunya and other women
know that there are ways to be helped. We need these women to understand that
we live in a society that can protect them, that can offer them shelter
houses. I understand that there are many problems with the current shelter
houses, how they are shunned and mistreated in some instances, but it is still
better than having your genitals severed, eyes gouged out, breasts cut off,
body tied to a car and shot in the face. We can improve the services that are
available, but we cannot rule them out as an option.

It deeply saddens me to write about these incidents, especially when Kurdish
media outlets have shown so little respect to Dunya. Pictures of her covered in
blood and her body severed by the gruesome violence inflicted on her are on
every media outlet’s coverage.

These pictures have gone viral on social networking sites and it sickens me that
we still don’t have responsible journalism, that we still think it is appropriate to
use such horrific pictures for the sake of sensationalizing the situation and turning
it into a media witch hunt for more views, likes and fans.

Perhaps, once we learn to respect women’s bodies, and give them their due rights,
as equal to men in Kurdish society, we will forgo this horrendous practice.

An unnamed 45-year-old man murdered his 15-year-old wife on May 23 in the district of Kalakji in the city of Duhok. I will spare readers no details, because it is important for people to understand what a little girl endured at the hands of an evil man.


For years, we have seen countless incidents of Kurdish women violently beaten, raped, killed. And for reasons unknown to me, nothing changes with how we approach these cases. The incident will be all over the news for a week, maybe two weeks, if women are lucky, and then suddenly people forget about it.


Dunya was brutally killed -- her breasts cut off, genitals cut into pieces, shot nine times, her body tied to a car and dragged around, eyes removed. When her body was washed for burial, the undertaker who washed her body told Rudaw that, as she poured water over her body, she could hear the grinding of her broken bones. Immediately following the murder, the Union of Islamic scholars in Kurdistan demanded an investigation into the murder, and Kurdish society once more practiced their time-contingent outrages that seem to change like the British weather.


Following the news, a demonstration was announced on Facebook, dubbed “Stand up for Dunya” outside the Kurdistani Parliament in Erbil -- alongside a vigil for people to pay their respects. In an effort to make ourselves feel better -- less responsible and more proactive – I am sure many meetings and workshops will be arranged in the future in light of this incident. However, what I am more concerned about is, once the media find something more interesting to talk about, and when the Kurdish society’s moral outrage withers away, what will happen to the countless young girls stuck in marriages, or the thousands of Kurdish women who find no haven to escape abusive marriages and partners.


It has become inbred in our culture that by escaping a violent marriage, seeking shelter houses, calling the police, demanding equality, we are shaming our families. In fact, we are shaming our families by accepting horrific violations of our personal sovereignty and integrity. We have been misguided to accept that certain acts are not cohesive with Kurdish culture, but the truth is, violence against women is not cohesive with Kurdish culture.


Our society is very polarized in this regard -- from those who claim that Kurdistan is backward in every regard and have little room for women -- to those who claim Kurdistan is a liberating haven for women. Neither side seems to depict the truer and more complex situation of Kurdish women. We’re still transitioning into a fully democratic society that respects the rights of women and embodies universal standards. This does not mean we accept violations of the rights of women simply because we are “transitioning,” but rather the first part of the solution is to understand the problems we are facing.


Significant numbers of Kurdish women are highly educated, and there are many who hold prestigious jobs, and many Kurdish women are independent, hardworking and successful women. However, we still have women and girls who are, similar to many countries in the world, forced into marriages or given no choice but to endure abusive marriages. The pressing question, I’m fully aware, is not about whether Kurdish women or Kurdish society is progressive, but rather about this particular case and how we should respond to it.

- See more at: http://rudaw.net/NewsDetails.aspx?PageID=48392#sthash.8D6h4UXw.dpuf
An unnamed 45-year-old man murdered his 15-year-old wife on May 23 in the district of Kalakji in the city of Duhok. I will spare readers no details, because it is important for people to understand what a little girl endured at the hands of an evil man.


For years, we have seen countless incidents of Kurdish women violently beaten, raped, killed. And for reasons unknown to me, nothing changes with how we approach these cases. The incident will be all over the news for a week, maybe two weeks, if women are lucky, and then suddenly people forget about it.


Dunya was brutally killed -- her breasts cut off, genitals cut into pieces, shot nine times, her body tied to a car and dragged around, eyes removed. When her body was washed for burial, the undertaker who washed her body told Rudaw that, as she poured water over her body, she could hear the grinding of her broken bones. Immediately following the murder, the Union of Islamic scholars in Kurdistan demanded an investigation into the murder, and Kurdish society once more practiced their time-contingent outrages that seem to change like the British weather.


Following the news, a demonstration was announced on Facebook, dubbed “Stand up for Dunya” outside the Kurdistani Parliament in Erbil -- alongside a vigil for people to pay their respects. In an effort to make ourselves feel better -- less responsible and more proactive – I am sure many meetings and workshops will be arranged in the future in light of this incident. However, what I am more concerned about is, once the media find something more interesting to talk about, and when the Kurdish society’s moral outrage withers away, what will happen to the countless young girls stuck in marriages, or the thousands of Kurdish women who find no haven to escape abusive marriages and partners.


It has become inbred in our culture that by escaping a violent marriage, seeking shelter houses, calling the police, demanding equality, we are shaming our families. In fact, we are shaming our families by accepting horrific violations of our personal sovereignty and integrity. We have been misguided to accept that certain acts are not cohesive with Kurdish culture, but the truth is, violence against women is not cohesive with Kurdish culture.


Our society is very polarized in this regard -- from those who claim that Kurdistan is backward in every regard and have little room for women -- to those who claim Kurdistan is a liberating haven for women. Neither side seems to depict the truer and more complex situation of Kurdish women. We’re still transitioning into a fully democratic society that respects the rights of women and embodies universal standards. This does not mean we accept violations of the rights of women simply because we are “transitioning,” but rather the first part of the solution is to understand the problems we are facing.


Significant numbers of Kurdish women are highly educated, and there are many who hold prestigious jobs, and many Kurdish women are independent, hardworking and successful women. However, we still have women and girls who are, similar to many countries in the world, forced into marriages or given no choice but to endure abusive marriages. The pressing question, I’m fully aware, is not about whether Kurdish women or Kurdish society is progressive, but rather about this particular case and how we should respond to it.


There is no doubt that in the coming weeks Dunya will stop making headlines. Her case, like the previous cases of two young girls murdered and thrown into a lake, or the recent case of a Syrian refugee who was raped, will be forgotten. It is important for the Kurdish government and charities to support endeavors that are specifically designed to let young girls like Dunya and other women know that there are ways to be helped. We need these women to understand that we live in a society that can protect them, that can offer them shelter houses. I understand that there are many problems with the current shelter houses, how they are shunned and mistreated in some instances, but it is still better than having your genitals severed, eyes gouged out, breasts cut off, body tied to a car and shot in the face. We can improve the services that are available, but we cannot rule them out as an option.


It deeply saddens me to write about these incidents, especially when Kurdish media outlets have shown so little respect to Dunya. Pictures of her covered in blood and her body severed by the gruesome violence inflicted on her are on every media outlet’s coverage. These pictures have gone viral on social networking sites and it sickens me that we still don’t have responsible journalism, that we still think it is appropriate to use such horrific pictures for the sake of sensationalizing the situation and turning it into a media witch hunt for more views, likes and fans. Perhaps, once we learn to respect women’s bodies, and give them their due rights, as equal to men in Kurdish society, we will forgo this horrendous practice. 
- See more at: http://rudaw.net/NewsDetails.aspx?PageID=48392#sthash.8D6h4UXw.dpufAn unnamed 45-year-old man murdered his 15-year-old wife on May 23 in the
district of Kalakji in the city of Duhok. I will spare readers no details, because it
is important for people to understand what a little girl endured at the hands of
an evil man.
For years, we have seen countless incidents of Kurdish women violently
beaten, raped, killed. And for reasons unknown to me, nothing changes with
how we approach these cases. The incident will be all over the news for a
week, maybe two weeks, if women are lucky, and then suddenly people forget
about it.
Dunya was brutally killed -- her breasts cut off, genitals cut into pieces, shot
nine times, her body tied to a car and dragged around, eyes removed. When
her body was washed for burial, the undertaker who washed her body told
Rudaw that, as she poured water over her body, she could hear the grinding of
her broken bones. Immediately following the murder, the Union of Islamic
scholars in Kurdistan demanded an investigation into the murder, and Kurdish
society once more practiced their time-contingent outrages that seem to
change like the British weather.
Following the news, a demonstration was announced on Facebook, dubbed
“Stand up for Dunya” outside the Kurdistani Parliament in Erbil -- alongside a
vigil for people to pay their respects. In an effort to make ourselves feel better -
- less responsible and more proactive – I am sure many meetings and
workshops will be arranged in the future in light of this incident. However, what
I am more concerned about is, once the media find something more interesting
to talk about, and when the Kurdish society’s moral outrage withers away, what
will happen to the countless young girls stuck in marriages, or the thousands of
Kurdish women who find no haven to escape abusive marriages and partners.
It has become inbred in our culture that by escaping a violent marriage, seeking
shelter houses, calling the police, demanding equality, we are shaming our
families. In fact, we are shaming our families by accepting horrific violations of
our personal sovereignty and integrity. We have been misguided to accept that
certain acts are not cohesive with Kurdish culture, but the truth is, violence
against women is not cohesive with Kurdish culture.
Our society is very polarized in this regard -- from those who claim that
Kurdistan is backward in every regard and have little room for women -- to
those who claim Kurdistan is a liberating haven for women. Neither side seems
to depict the truer and more complex situation of Kurdish women. We’re still
transitioning into a fully democratic society that respects the rights of women
and embodies universal standards. This does not mean we accept violations of
the rights of women simply because we are “transitioning,” but rather the first
part of the solution is to understand the problems we are facing.
Significant numbers of Kurdish women are highly educated, and there are many
who hold prestigious jobs, and many Kurdish women are independent,
hardworking and successful women. However, we still have women and girls
who are, similar to many countries in the world, forced into marriages or given
no choice but to endure abusive marriages. The pressing question, I’m fully
aware, is not about whether Kurdish women or Kurdish society is progressive,
but rather about this particular case and how we should respond to it.
There is no doubt that in the coming weeks Dunya will stop making headlines.
Her case, like the previous cases of two young girls murdered and thrown into
a lake, or the recent case of a Syrian refugee who was raped, will be forgotten.
It is important for the Kurdish government and charities to support endeavors
that are specifically designed to let young girls like Dunya and other women
know that there are ways to be helped. We need these women to understand
How Long Will We Remember Dunya?
http://rudaw

Friday, May 23, 2014

مشروع تحسين جودة الحكم الاستبدادي في الشرق الأوسطProject for the Improvement of Authoritarian Rule in the Middle East


علمت الشرق الأوسط الجديد مؤخرا أن الحكم الاستبدادي سيستمر في العالم العربي، و في الشرق الأوسط عموما، في المدى المنظور. كخدمة عامة، سوف ينظم الشرق الأوسط الجديد مشروعا باسم، " تحسين جودة الحكم الاستبدادي في الشرق الأوسط".

هناك هدفان مرجوان من هذا المشروع. أولا، يهدف هذا المشروع الى شرح حقيقة هذا الحكم للمواطنين الذين يعيشون تحت وطأته، و الفوائد التي ينالها المواطن من هكذا حكم. ثانيا، يهدف هذا المشروع الى مساعدة الحكام للسيطرة على دولهم بطريقة أكثر فاعلية. 

ينقسم المشروع الى ثلاثة أقسام. القسم الأول، يقترح الشرق الأوسط الجديد تبديل أسماء الوزارات الحالية بأسماء تعبر عن حقيقة هذه الوزارات بطريقة أفضل. القسم الثاني من المشروع، يقترح أن يستبدل الحكام الاستبداديون كل الوزارات، و يستعيضوا عنها بوزارتين شموليتن لا غير، هكذا يوفروا كما هائلا من الأموال العامة. القسم الثالث من المشروع، يقدم اقتراحات للحكام عن كيفية تخطي مرحلة الحكم الدكتاتوري الى أنواع أخرى من الحكم.

القسم الاول: تبديل أسماء الوزارات الحالية بأسماء تعبر عن الحقيقة الفعلية للوزارات

     وزارة نهارك أسود ( اقتراح آخر- وزارة قصر النهاية). وزارة الداخلية سابقا.   

    وزارة تحضير الحياة في المنفي للرؤساء و الملوك بعد الانقلاب. وزارة الخارجية سابقا.

    وزارة الكلام الفاضي و المعلومات المتناقضة. وزارة الإعلام سابقا.

     وزارة الغموض و الجهل. وزارة الشوون الدينية سابقا.

     وزارة التخلف و اللاتنمية. وزارة التخطيط سابقا.

      وزارة حياتي ورطة. وزارة الشوؤن الائتمانية سابقا. (الشرق الاوسط الجديد يقدم الشكر ل د. صلاح الدين أحمد لدقة توصيف اقتراحه).

    وزارة الطبخ، الجنس و نكاح المتعة. وزارة الشوون النسائية سابقا.

    وزارة بناء العنف. وزارة الدفاع سابقا.

    وزارة تدمير التييارات الفكرية. وزارة الثقافة سابقا.

    وزارة الفول و الطعمية. وزارة التموين سابقا. 

    وزارة صفر على الشمال ( اسم بديل- وزارة الصبر جميل) وزارة الكهرباء سابقا.

    وزارة انتا و بختك (اسم بديل- وزارة حمد لله على السلامة). وزارة المواصلات سابقا.

    وزارة الأفكار المتشائمة و التساؤل ممنوع. وزارة التعليم و التربية سابقا.

    وزارة النظريات و المفاهيم الفارغة. وزارة التعليم العالي سابقا. 

    وزارة الفساد و التدهور الإقتصادي. وزارة المال سابقا.

    وزارة اوعا تتكلم  بالسياسة. وزارة الشباب سابقا.

    وزارة ولا يهمك. وزارة البيئة سابقا.

    وزارة الجوع و الإهمال. وزارة الزراعة سابقا.

القسم الثاني: تبسيط الحكم الاستبدادي 

من المعروف أنه ينتج عن الحكم السلطوي و الاستبدادي فساد هائل و هدر كبير للأمول العامة. من أجل تخفيف الهدر و الحفاظ على مدخرات الأنظمة الاستبدادية، تقترح الشرق الأوسط الجديد إلغاء كل الوزارات السابقة، و استبدالها بوزارتين شمولتين.  كما يمكن الاستشفاف من اسمي الوزارتين، لا تحتاج هاتان الوزارتان لأكثر من بضع موظفين، و هكذا يمكن أن توفر هاتين الوزارتين أمولا طائلة على الدول الاستبدادية.

الوزارة الأولى: وزارة لا تصحى من النوم صباحا.
الوزارة الثانية: وزارة تحت أمرك- و ترجع بعد يومين.


القسم الثالث: بدائل حكم للرؤساء و الملوك الاستبداديين عند احساسهم بالملل

لمن استمر في الحكم و تربع على عرش السلطة سنين طويلة من الحكام، و تنتابه حالة الملل من تنفيذ مواطني دولهم لكل الاوامر، الاملاءات و المراسيم. ربما - و نقول ربما- قد يفكر هؤلاء الحكام بتجربة نمط آخر من الحكم، الديموقراطية مثلا. الشرق الأوسط الجديد يقدم مقترحات لأسماء  ملائمة للوزارات، إذا ما قرر الحكام الاستبداديون الانخراط بالتحول الديموقراطي. 

     وزارة نهارك أبيض.اسم جديد لوزارة الداخلية.

     وزارة  كبر مخك. اسم جديد لوزارة الثقافة.

    وزارة الدم الخفيف. اسم جديد لوزارة الشباب.

    وزارة حب الانسان. اسم جديد لوزارة الشؤون الاجتماعية.

     وزارة الدجاج موجود في كل الجمعيات. اسم جديد لوزارة التموين. 


الشرق الأوسط الجديد ما زال بحاجة الى أسماء لوزارات حكومية، سواء لوزارات حالية، أو وزارات يمكن أن تنشأ من خلال التحول الديموقراطي. لهذا قررنا الإعلان عن مسابقة ندعو بها القراء الأعزاء أن يرسلوا لنا إقتراحاتهم لأسماء وزارات حكومية.

الفائز في هذه المسابقة سوف يحصل على نسخة من كتاب مذكرات الدولة: السياسة، التاريخ و الهوية الجمعية في العراق الحديث ( النسخة الانكليزية أو العربية). الفائز سيحصل أيضا على رحلة مغطاة التكاليف لحفل تسلم السلطة لمن يختاره/تختاره من الحكام الاستبداديين، كبشار الأسد، عبد الفتاح السيسي، أو رجب طيب أوردوغان ( إذا ما أصبح رئيسا لتركيا). المسابقة تنتهي في ١٥من شهر حزيران. 
نتوجه بالشكر الجزيل لكل قرائنا لجهودهم في تحسين جودة الحكم الاستبدادي. 


















Reconciliation through Education in Iraq

Guest contributor, Christine M. van den Toorn,  professor, AUIS, 2009-2013, addresses the important topic of how education can be used to overcome sectarian identities and promote national reconciliation in Iraq.

This week, the class of 2014 will graduate from the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS), a four-year liberal arts institution in the Kurdistan Region.

In some ways, AUIS reflects its host country: ethno-sectarian divisions exist among the student body. Sectarianism and its manifestations in Iraqi society, government and the economy could be called the largest problem facing the country today.

However AUIS is also unlike any other institution of higher learning in Iraq. Courses are taught in English, leaving graduates near fluency. Regardless of their major, the curriculum requires students to take multiple courses in the humanities, in which they evaluate advanced texts in discussion based classes and conduct academic research for papers. Students participate widely in sports and theatre, journalism, debate, archaeology and photography clubs.
AUIS English language class

This university experience allows some students, though not all, to move beyond the mistrust, suspicion and lack of communication that prevents Iraqis from reconciliation and power sharing in Iraq today. In short, AUIS provides evidence that education can overcome ethno-sectarian divides.
 
The student body at AUIS, Iraqi Kurds, Arabs, Yezidis, Turkmen and Christians, reflects the diversity of the greater country as well as its divisions. Kurds tend to hang out with Kurds and Arabs with Arabs. They identify each other by their ethnic group. There is a “we don’t like them because they don’t like us” attitude. Among Iraqi Arab students, there is a divide between Shi’i and Sunni.

Many of these suspicions and divides are understandable: there was limited interaction between Iraqi Arab and Kurdish youth after the no-fly zone in 1991; the Iraqi education system labeled Kurds traitors and Arabs superior; and a history of violence against Kurds by Iraqi regimes created a breeding ground for misconceptions and hatred. Iraqi Kurdish and Arab youth do not have a shared language because Arabic instruction ended in the Kurdistan Region in 1991. 

While English forms a bridge, at AUIS most students say they stick to “their own” because of language. Likewise, Sunni and Shi’i students from Baghdad and al-Najaf have grown up in a violent environment of sectarian animosity and have little memory of an earlier time when Iraqis were not all driven by sect.

This is where education can make a difference.

There is a great deal missing from Iraq’s history textbooks that could help students bridge ethno-sectarian divides and have better perspective on how to rebuild their government.

Secondary school textbooks do not venture past 1963, the year of the first Ba’thist coup, and thus contain no information on Saddam Hussein's regime, preventing students from studying the shared suffering of all Iraqis. What is included about the earlier decades of the Iraqi state is a story of occupation and victimhood, rather than lessons about political parties, unions and clubs in which all Iraqis participated during the monarchy and Abd al-Karim Qasim’s brief rule from 1958-1963.

In Middle East History classes students learn about events that challenge their narrative of Iraqi history as Sunni vs. Shi’i and Kurd vs. Arab, allowing them to move beyond suspicions and mistrust. 

In one such incident, a Kurdish student from Chemchemal learned of the uprising in southern Iraqi in 1991 against Saddam. He, like many Kurds, "used to hate Arabs...because I thought they all liked Saddam” but has now “totally changed his mind” and “has many Arab friends,” a dynamic he attributes to "what I learned at AUIS." Similarly, students from Baghdad learn for the first time about the extent to which Kurds suffered under Ba’th Party rule. 

Many students are surprised to hear that Saddam's regime was far from sectarian, and that there were Shi'i in the upper echelons of the Ba'th Party. They learn, in the words of an Iraqi historian who grew up in Baghdad in the 1950s, “when a person looks for servants and slaves he will care little about their sects, ethnicity, or religion as far as they are enthusiastically advancing his personal goals.” They begin to think about "dictatorship" as a universal pathology rather than associated with an ethnicity.

Ottoman history can also teach important lessons about a time when ethnicity had little to do with identity or politics and many Kurds and Arabs were active citizens in the Empire. Learning about the Young Turks shows that ethno-nationalism was new rather than something that had always existed. Looking at pan-Arabism reveals the failures of such ethnocentric movements.

It is not just what students learn but how they learn that makes such institutions key to reconciliation.

AUIS students win Microsoft Image Cup
When students arrive at AUIS, few have ever read an academic text or written anything original – copying Wikipedia entries is acceptable in Iraqi schools – and fewer had any idea of what it means to conduct research, and provide evidence or an argument. Several students remember writing Saddam Husayn’s name in essays because it had to be preceded and followed by lines of flattering adjectives and they could not receive a low grade. Almost every student has told me over the years they "hate history...all we did was memorize!"

Classes that focus on discussion, reading and writing make a big difference. It is not simply reading about what Saddam Husayn did, but discussing his policies in class that enables students to consider different perspectives. Research is equally important: one student commented that his research paper on “How the Ba’th stayed in power” allowed him to understand the fear and paranoia Arabs experienced, and how the Party politicized ethnic and sectarian identities.

AUIS women's  basketball team
Similar to class, activities like debate society, theatre and sports teams provide opportunities to bridge ethnic and sectarian divisions. While they are the exception to the rule, some AUIS students who “didn’t like Arabs” or “didn’t like Kurds” are now friends because of shared experiences over time. The girls on the women's basketball team are from all over the Kurdistan Region and Baghdad. Yezidis from Bashiqa visit their friends in al-Najaf, and students from Baghdad go on camping trips with local students in Ranya, the "Gateway of the Revolution" where the Kurdish uprising started against Saddam in 1991. 

They are friends because “we get along and have the same interests” and “have the same personality.” Most AUIS students share the concerns of their counterparts all over the world: good grades, a good job, and spending time with their friends.                                                                                                                                              
The problem now is that individuals equipped with the tools of AUIS graduates are too few and far between to make a real impact in Iraqi society. The Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education and Ministry of Education, in cooperation with foreign governments, should focus on two areas of reform: liberal arts institutions, such as an American University in Baghdad (as advocated by Minister of Higher Education Ali Adeeb in the Chronicle last December), and an overhaul of curricula and pedagogy in public schools.

The continuing ethno-sectarian strife in Iraq proves there are no short-term solutions to Iraq’s conflicts. Stability and reconciliation will come only through the establishment of democratic, federal institutions that are both accountable and transparent.  Only a non-sectarian, civic-minded Iraqi population can build these institutions, making education reform the key to Iraq's future.
AUIS graduating students