Professor flees Iraq in search of academic freedom

Denise Wright

A Kent State professor hopes to return to Iraq, even after experiencing life-threatening difficulties there.

Faiz Al-Alawy, associate professor of electronics and computer engineering and visiting scholar from Iraq, was forced to leave his home country in late 2005 because, he said, “many bad things started happening.”

Al-Alawy currently teaches two undergraduate and two graduate level technology classes at Kent State, but his career started in Iraq.

In 1992, Al-Alawy began teaching various technology courses at an IT school in Baghdad. He was nominated to be dean of the university in 2003.

“Before 2003, everything was forbidden (academically),” Al-Alawy said. “From the beginning I was objecting these ideas.”

At the same time, Al-Alawy started to direct projects and provide training for Iraqis. He said he was able to send more than 100 Iraqis to the United States for training.

“Because of these issues and many other issues, I started being very visible to other Iraqis,” Al-Alawy said. “This put me in very serious situations.”

These situations were so serious that in late 2005, Al-Alawy’s brother was killed and his children were being threatened.

“I wanted to put them (my family) in Jordan,” Al-Alawy said. “Then I wanted to go back to Iraq, but they refused to let me.”

Al-Alawy said, at the time, he had become friends with several American consultants whom he had been working with to develop higher education in Iraq.

“I started communicating with many different groups, universities and IT vendors,” Al-Alawy said. “My new friends started telling me I should leave.”

One of these friends worked with the Institute of International Education, which partners with Scholars at Risk. According to the Scholars at Risk page on the New York University Web site, it’s an organization that provides temporary sanctuary for scholars who are being threatened, harmed or punished because of the “scholar’s work, prominence and/or exercise of fundamental human rights.”

Al-Alawy became part of the program, despite his efforts to resist.

“First of all, I said, ‘No, I’m not leaving,'” Al-Alawy said. “But, when all these things started happening, I decided to leave Iraq.”

Al-Alawy arrived in the Kent area in May 2007. His wife and children joined him three months later.

He said his siblings and mother also left Iraq after he did.

Al-Alawy said he never thought he would be forced to leave Iraq, and although he faced life-threatening situations there, he would still like to go back.

“I still have the same (academic) ideas and hope to return to Iraq to share them,” he said. “But if the situation were to stay like it is now, I would stay here for another year, or two or three.”

Kenneth Cushner, executive director of the Office of International Affairs, works closely with Al-Alawy.

“He’s committed to returning to Iraq and settling down there,” Cushner said. “He can be a very instrumental figure in the development of the new Iraq.”

Al-Alawy said he is set to finish teaching after the Spring 2008 semester, but he also enrolled in the computer science Ph.D. program at Kent State.

“The best way is to prepare yourself like you’re going to return tomorrow,” Al-Alawy said. “But also organize your life in a way that you expect the Iraqi problems to last for many years.”

Contact honors and international affairs reporter Denise Wright at [email protected]