Magazine article Times Higher Education

'A Year of IS Rule Has Set Us Back 10 Years'

Magazine article Times Higher Education

'A Year of IS Rule Has Set Us Back 10 Years'

Article excerpt

Chilling testimonies collected from Iraqis by a British charity reveal the devastating impact of the arrival of Islamic State. Matthew Reisz writes

Harrowing stories of the suffering and dilemmas faced by academics in Islamic State-controlled areas of Iraq have emerged through testimonies given to the Council for At-Risk Academics (Cara).

One witness, who asked to remain anonymous, describes what has happened at the University of Anbar (located in Ramadi, capital of the country's largest governorate or province, Al-Anbar). Even before IS took over in June 2014, he recalls, "we academics were unable to speak freely or give our opinions about IS in public because there were some students involved with IS and some lecturers were beaten up by students". Giving a low mark to "a student belonging to IS" became very risky.

Things obviously got worse once IS seized power, since they "threatened the academics and wanted them to propagandise for them. Lecturers were tortured and even killed for refusing to obey. IS also prohibited the academics from leaving the university hostel and used them as human shields...Al-Qaim College was occupied by IS and the buildings used as a court and a prison."

Kidnapped, tortured and trapped

It was at this point, continues the witness, that "IS started to arrest the lecturers one after another and take them to prison, which sadly was their college. They were insulted, humiliated and tortured. The lucky ones were able to leave the city under dangerous conditions with their families to avoid this destiny."

Yet even those who have found safety in Kurdistan often receive death threats or news that children left behind have been kidnapped. And all this just for the "sin" of wanting to "improve higher education in our country and to teach modern knowledge, which is forbidden and unacceptable to IS".

Alongside the terrible impact on individuals, concludes the witness, "IS have destroyed the infrastructures of the university and higher education in Al-Anbar". With books and research papers burned, academics' houses, laboratories, laptops and cars taken over, "the academic year 2014 was lost and many students were not able to finish their studies. All research projects were stopped and most lost forever. This took us back perhaps 10 years."

Similarly tragic events are unfolding at the University of Mosul, once the second largest in Iraq. This is "unfortunately now semi-closed", reports another of Cara's local contacts, since the IS takeover last June led to "the flight of the army and the government from Mosul, leaving civilians trapped in the city. Now hundreds of faculty members and thousands of students have left the area for nearby Kurdistan as well as other Iraqi cities or outside Iraq. …

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