Former CCSU President Richard Judd and current history professor Norton Mezvinsky have begun plans to build a university in Baghdad in hopes of rejuvenating the Iraqi educational system. The school, aptly titled the International University of Iraq (IUI), would be a non-profit, non-sectarian undergraduate college with advanced research programs.
The Iraqi educational system has been devastated by years of oppression by the Saddam Hussein regime, international sanctions and the current occupation by the United States. Many of the country's schools have been destroyed by bombs or taken over by militias. United Nations data reported that only about 30 percent of the approximate 3.5 million Iraqi students attend school. Many of those seeking higher education have become refugees, moving into neighboring countries.
Iraq is currently a nation in disarray. As our forces try to quell the violence and reconstruct a functioning society, we are meeting with much resistance. Many of the people there resent our presence and our attempts to convert them to a more Western way of government and life. IUI would be an internationally funded project, completely separate from the U.S. government. Judd, in an interview with The New Britain Herald, said he would eventually request assistance from Washington, but because of world attitudes he feels their "fingerprints" wouldn't help the cause of trying to renew higher education in Iraq.
Former President Judd, Professor Mezvinsky and all others involved in this project are to be commended. Access to education is one of the most important parts of a liberated society. Ideally, education will grant people an outlet to express themselves and their opinions without resorting to violence. It provides innumerable opportunities for other avenues in life, something Iraqis have been denied for too long. The various conf licts there have silenced many academics by cutting them off from the rest of the world. The Middle East is one of the most turbulent and complicated regions in the world, and more study and understanding of the situation there could only be beneficial. But this project will take patience and time if it is going to succeed.
Richard Judd has always been a pursuer and defender of academic freedom. After the 2001 terrorist attacks, he faced criticism aimed at Central's Middle Eastern Studies program as accusations were made that students were being indoctrinated with anti-Israel bias. He responded to this by defending the programs and standing by the scholars he hired to be experts on Middle Eastern culture and affairs. He did not yield to the overwhelming nationalistic tide of the time, and his pursuit of IUI demonstrates his continued sympathy towards people in a country many have demonized.
Many see the U.S. effort in Iraq as a disaster, as it continues to appear that not much progress toward democracy has been made there. Some argue that violence there is worse than it ever was under the regime we overthrew. We have met with continued struggles in reconstructing a society there. It is still a very dangerous place, and setting up a university there involves some risk. However, Mr. Judd, Mr. Mezvinsky and everyone else involved with this project should be applauded for their humanitarian efforts.
In the U.S. it is easy to take many of our opportunities for granted. Education is made part of our lives from almost the beginning. Many of us grow to question its value and even dislike it to a certain degree. But the attempt to bring education to those deprived of it is one of the noblest things someone can do. Everyone should agree that Iraq could use less warfare and more of these humanitarian efforts.