Monday, December 21, 2009

Part 12 - Activism - A Prologue September 2003

A great deal has happened vis a vis Iraq since this paper was written in April of 2003. For our part a large group of activists and academics traveled to Northern Cyprus on April 25th and met at the Eastern Mediterranean University to discuss what to do next. Out of those discussions came the dream of Dr. Tareq Ismael to build the International University of Baghdad (IUB). The initial proposal was developed in Cyprus and it was decided that the initiative should be a Canadian sponsored initiative.

The IUB would begin as a “virtual university”, meaning that the project will begin to get underway in terms of establishing programs, international connections, and so forth, even before it would acquire a physical presence in Iraq. Once established, however, it will be a graduate-focused institution and would compliment post-secondary education in Iraq, rather than compete in the post-Ba’ath environment. Not only will the university spearhead needed educational programs, but it will also make available a wealth of educated individuals capable of filling the “brain-drain” that resulted from the years of war, militarization and sanctions. Before the U.S. and British-led attack on Iraq, there were 10 universities in the country, but the quality of education provided at these universities was in decline as there was not enough funding available to run these institutions properly, principally due to the UN Security Council sanctions and the choices made by the previous Iraqi government to focus predominantly on militarization. Vast numbers of university professors and professionals, such as doctors and engineers, left the country in the 1990s as a result of the dramatic decline in social services. Now, largely due to the destruction and looting incurred in the recent war and its aftermath, none of the universities in Iraq remain fully functional. This is a predicament that urgently requires attention, as access to education has always been instrumental in developing a lively and independent civil environment.

The established universities in Iraq will benefit greatly from an internationally-focused and graduate-centred educational facility in their country. The IUB will be able to draw students from all over the world to study in Iraq, alongside Iraqi citizens, creating a constructive dialogue that is capable of transcending the simplicities of international conflict scenarios. The breadth of experiences possessed by the international students will enhance the resources and connections that Iraqi citizens themselves would have, fostering greater civil society through an ever increasing independence from governmental contacts. At the same time, the unique experiences of the Iraqi students – historically, politically, economically and culturally – along with the potential revival of a “cosmopolitan” Baghdad, will serve to enrich the international students who would be studying at the IUB.

The planning committee has already garnered a great deal of international recognition for this project, including support from individuals such as Betty Williams, the Irish Nobel laureate, and Jordan's Prince el-Hassan Bin Talal, brother of the late King Hussein, who is acting as the chairman of the board of trustees. Furthermore, IUB advocates include Canada’s Prime Minister Jean Chr├ętien; along with Edward Broadbent, former leader of NDP; Richard Falk, professor of international law (Emeritus) at Princeton University; and John Polanyi, winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry and professor of chemistry at the University of Toronto.

With the help of other supporters, the IUB planning committee is also currently working to urge Nelson Mandela, former South African President, to become a member of the university’s board of trustees.

At this crucial time when many Iraqis see any outside involvement as largely negative and tied to an “occupation”, and relate to the international environment in terms of “conflict”, the reconstruction of Iraqi educational infrastructure through this project and others will help to provide an example for the positive possibilities of international cooperation. Canada is in a unique position to spearhead such a project and should seize the opportunity to foster positive development in Iraq and advance our traditional role as a peacemaker in the international environment.

While in Ottawa over the past few months we have had meetings with several MPs, Senators, DFAIT, CIDA and potential partner agencies such as the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

To summarize the rationale we presented in Ottawa for why Canada should lead this initiative:
1. Canada has had a long-standing relationship with the Middle East and in particular with Iraq. Prior to the Gulf War of 1991, Canada was one of Iraq’s primary trading partners, and the Canadian Wheat Board was the largest supplier of wheat to Iraq.
2. Canada is considered a non-imperialistic actor in the region. We have not had the expansionist policies of France, the United Kingdom and the United States.
3. Canada has had a reputation as a Middle Power and a peacemaker in world affairs.
4. The stance that Canada took in the recent Gulf War of not supporting unilateral US action has reinforced Canada’s image in world affairs.
5. Canada can exercise a tremendous amount of influence in Iraq and the region by taking these kinds of initiatives.

You may contact me at donn.lovett@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from all of you and your personal journeys.

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