Iraqi universities, students hurt by war

Many of us wake up doubting we’ll make it to class. Usually we just feel lazy or sick. Maybe we’re busy with other things or too late to get there on time. But do we ever doubt we’ll get there because we could die on the way?

No matter how we feel about the war in Iraq, understanding the day-to-day struggles of civilians in harm’s way pulls the situation back into a reality-based focus, instead of one colored by ideology.

As university students, we need to take particular interest in how life goes on – or sometimes doesn’t go on – for university campuses in Iraq. We need to understand how easy we have it here compared to the war-torn universities there.

In becoming more aware of our counterparts in Iraq, maybe we’ll form our opinions with more consideration of those whom they’ll actually effect, rather than picking sides with relation to the vacuous worlds of academic and political debate.

Recent events illustrate the contrasts between student life here and in Iraq.

If instead of going to Ole Miss you attended Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, for example, then on January 17 two blasts at your school killed over 70 people and wounded many more.

According to, one blast occurred when a parked car blew up under the pedestrian bridge at the school’s main gate. Imagine the same happening at our bridge entrance on University Ave. just as we’re strolling by with iPods in our ears and little on our minds. The idea is disturbing and unthinkable. But for Iraqi students, it’s a reality they can’t ignore with little white headphones.

According to The Independent, at approximately 3:45 p.m. the suicide bomber detonated the explosives-laden car as nearby students loaded minibuses to leave Mustansiriya University.

Again, remember this next time the most we can complain about going to and from this campus is limited parking and the occasional, slight traffic.

After the bridge bombing, CNN reported that a suicide bomber set off a vest of explosives at the back entrance of the campus. Then, about 30 minutes later, shooters on motorcycles killed 12 people at a marketplace close to the university.

Picture something like that taking place at the Square, where all the little people with their big opinions on war are going about their business as usual. It’s hard to fathom war hitting so close to home, and I don’t want to imagine it any more than the next guy, but I feel like we have to so we can behave more like responsible human beings.

Keep in mind that all the events I’ve shared so far happened around a single campus within less than an hour. Granted, this was the most extreme case of violence targeting Iraqi students so far, but it’s only part of a growing trend of politicization and bloodshed taking its toll on Iraqi universities. A female suicide bomber hit the business school annex of the same university Sunday, killing more than 41 people.

But suicide bombers aren’t the only ones destroying Iraq’s universities.

According to a 2003 article in the journal Science, the U.S. invasion brought with it many unintended consequences undermining higher education in Iraq.

Our troops ransacked science departments in the search for evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Students in the fields of science and engineering should take note that if a similar invasion happened in this country, the foreign soldiers actually would find weapons as well as the people who made them.

After the soldiers finished their heavy-handed weapons inspections on campus, Iraqi looters joined in and raided some museums and university collections of priceless pieces of cultural history.

In one sad, though comical, instance, a statue of Louis Pastuer was torn down because it sort of resembled Saddam Hussein. Pastuer, a Frenchman, proved the germ theory of disease.

Imagine witnessing foreign soldiers and clueless looters tearing apart our own Rowan Oak because it, too, is a “white house” like the one in our nation’s capital.

Perhaps one of the worst blows to higher education in Iraq is the targeting of progressive-minded academics. Well before the bombing of Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, religious extremists in both the Sunni and Shia camps already threatened the faculty for its co-ed classes and secular teachings.

According to USA Today, this intellectual persecution has led to an estimated 300 assassinations of the best and brightest academics with maybe 2,000 fleeing the country.

In addition, the new U.S.-imposed government disqualified several thousand more professors from public service, according to a 2003 article in the Chronicle of Higher Learning, because of their affiliation with the former Baath Party.

Never mind that joining the ruling party of Hussein was pretty much a prerequisite to obtaining employment in the field of education.

So imagine a few of your more qualified professors either fired, dead or chased out of the country.

A prewar article in the Chronicle of Higher Learning reported that many experts regarded Iraqi universities as the intellectual pearls of the region before Iraq invaded Kuwait. After that unfortunate incident, U.N. sanctions broke the economy along with the major institutions of the country.

If any lesson can be drawn from the Iraqi universities’ stories, it’s that we all share some blame for what happens to others. But even if we feel no sense of responsibility for what’s happening to Iraqi students, we can at least stop taking our own peaceful, privileged lives for granted.

Joe Wallace is a columnist for the Daily Mississippian of the University of Mississippi. This column was made available through U-Wire.