January 26, 2007

A stroll down Haifa street...

Haifa Street in Baghdad was of course named after a Palestinian town now under Israeli occupation.
It used to be a street, actually a neighborhood, where all denominations cohabited.
It also had specially designed buildings overlooking the Tigris river, reserved for academics only.
Iraqi academics , from all backgrounds, "ethnic" affiliations, "sects" and "religion"and from different fields of specialization lived in those buildings on Haifa Street, rent free, courteousy of the Iraqi government. This was part of Saddam Hussein's government campaign to promote education and to encourage individuals to strive for a career in academic knowledge and teaching thereafter.

A letter was sent to me via e.mail , a letter of despair and tragedy written by an Iraqi professor who lived on Haifa Street. I am going to translate the whole thing for you.

" My name is Ahmed Kamal Nabil . I am a university professor since 1975. I live on Haifa street.
On the 7th of January, I went out to buy some food since we had been without anything to eat since the day of the Eid (30th december).
My wife, two daughters and one small grandchild stayed at home.
Since there was no transportation and in view of the military presence surrounding Haifa street, I was unable to regain my apartment fast enough. Moreover, an unusual movement in our neighborhood made me very suspicious . I saw some elements of the Iraqi militias shooting on the door of our building. I immediately informed my family by phone so they may leave promptly.
They tried to but the militias refused them exit.
What followed was even more brutal. The upper floors of the building where we lived were totally destroyed and my wife was informing me (on the phone) that she and my daughters were few minutes away from an imminent Death. What could I do ?
I begged a neighbor to help us. At first he refused, then he agreed to courageously face the American and Iraqi forces and come to the rescue of my family, thus helping them seek refuge in another building close by which was not targeted.
The following day, at dawn, my family discovered a dead street,in ruins.
My wife and my kids left Haifa street with the only luggage they had, the clothes on their bodies.
The militias raped our home . They ransacked and looted all of our belongings.
In the space of a few minutes, we lost everything we worked for and owned.
My books, my souvenirs, my diplomas, my notes, my research papers and my personal diary.
In sum, all of my memory carefully constructed over a span of half a century has gone out.
Gone to sleep for ever. Now we are back to zero.
My family is scattered, lodged by different relatives and strangers.
Throughout my career , I have never committed one act of hostility vis a vis the Iraqi authorities or the American occupation forces. I filed a complaint but the policeman at the station was unimpressed. He told me that my only crime is that I was living in a street of "terrorists."
If I had chosen to return to Iraq, my country, after studies in Europe, it was with the aim of bringing to my people the knowledge I acquired in the West. I have conducted and supervised dozens of Phd theses and I have taught thousands of students.
What happened to me on the 7th of January is tragic. Is that the destiny of Iraqi intellectuals and researchers?
Is that the reward for those who opted for neutrality, independence of thought, spirit and honor?
What crime have I committed by not wanting to give in to violence and terror and by insisting on continuing my work - that of teaching in Iraq ? "

Yes Haifa street, the street of academics and the brain drain of the New Iraq.
Over 500 university professors have been assassinated since the "liberation." 500 individuals who have spent years studying, researching ,teaching, forming, training, disseminating knowledge...
Last week, over 100 students were massacred at the gates of al Mustansiriyah University.
It is beyond the shadow of doubt that universities, academics and students are the favored targets in Iraq.
Why is that so, did you ever ask yourself ?
I think the answer is simple. Universities , academics , students are the last bastion of the spirit of critical thinking. The last line in the Resistance against political manipulation and terror of the new Iraq.
Universities refuse the presence of militias within their walls. Academics are the few who raise their voices denouncing the political madness that is surrounding them. Students are still young free thinkers difficult to ideologically control.
Moreover, academics refuse to be dragged in or sucked in the role of representative or mouth piece for the occupation or for its puppets.
Academics are targeted because people respect and listen to them when they dare speak out.
And academics are targeted because the New Iraq has become one big looting field run by mercenaries, thugs, politically corrupt opportunists, sectarian agitators, fanatical dark minds, and barbarians.
And they want it to remain that way. They want to make sure that Iraq will never raise its head again . Hence the "beheading", the brain drain of all intellectuals.
In the new Iraq, there is no place for knowledge. Knowledge is their antithesis.

Hundreds of academics escape to other countries or simply change careers.
Some have become grocers or taxi drivers as these occupations are less dangerous than being a university professor.
Those who have refused either, have been killed or have ended up like our professor above. Destitute, homeless and stripped of everything.
This hemorrhage of intellectuals is programmed, it is part of the American reconstruction plan.

In contradiction to what the Americans claim, the reconstruction of Iraq does not take place in big projects but starts with the" grey matter",that stuff between our ears and called our brains .
Can anyone conceive of a country without doctors, engineers, scientists.....?

Well Iraq has become such a country. The reconstruction of Iraq american style does not need this grey matter. It can dispose of it, hence it encourages the hemorrhage to continue.
To the point that Unesco is thinking of offering 400 bullet proof vests to professors who insist on staying on and teaching plus a direct telephone line for those who feel they are under threat of being killed. Unesco is also envisaging to offer financial help to widows of academics thus encouraging others to not abandon their jobs as lecturers. Something they do, from fear of leaving a family behind in need- should they be targeted and assassinated.

Today,over 50 people have been killed in Haifa street. People are under siege in their apartments, with no food, no water, no electricity and unable to venture out.
The occupation forces, the Iraqi "army " and the militias have forbidden the evacuation of the injured or the dead.
They are left to die slowly in agony or to rot away on Haifa street. Just like the academics who inhabited its buildings.
Yes this is what has become of Haifa Street, a drained,desolate, burning, bleeding Street...of the New Iraq.

Painting : Iraqi artist, M.Muhrradin.