Academics Vs. Terrorists – How Terrorism hijacked the University of Mosul and how the academics liberated it

A wave of looting took over Iraq after the collapse of the Iraqi regime in 2003, known among Iraqis by “Hawasim” (translated to ‘Termination’ or ‘severance’), in reference to the name of the battle Saddam Hussain gave to his last battle in which he lost his regime. And any one participated in that looting is referred to by this name “Hawasim”. At that time, the university of Mosul was the most targeted victim of those waves of lootings. Huge groups of people invaded the university and just start to loot anything they were capable of carrying. And the central library was the most looted place of all (ISIS bombed it in 2016). The university’s staff and academics tried to stop the looters and protect the library, but the looters were armed, and no one was able to stop them but another armed group (they were armed citizens); the academics were not able to stop the looting until the “good armed guys” were able to bring the plundered books back to the library, and the library staff began to rearrange them back.

I witnessed those events with my father who tried, unavailingly, to rescue the library with the rest of its staff. I saw his tears running down his face as he was trying to stop an old woman dragging a box filled with books from plundering it. He stopped her asking what is she going to do with those books and she yelled to his face “this is our share!” She did not realize that what was she dragging were actually books!!. A year after that incident, the situation started to settle relatively, and the university of Mosul went back to normal business. At that time I was still young to attend college, but I was able to go to the university through escorting my sister who used to study there. Because of the unsettling security situation, I had to escort my sister in the morning to her classes and return back in the afternoon to escort her back home. And on my way back and forth to the university, I was asking myself the question: “why the academics couldn’t stop the looters from looting the university?”

Years passed by and I became officially a college student in 2007, studying history at the department of history there. Four months into my studying and developing my passion of Arabic and Islamic manuscripts with Prof. Jaafar Sadiq and I received the shocking news: Alqaeda terrorists assasined the professor on April 16, 2007. I was in shock for a whole week then I started with a group of students to protest inside the university demanding to open an investigation on the killing of the professor. The response came even more shocking to me: “if you don’t stop your protest, you will be apprehended!”, The head of security at the college of Arts said to me. Then the students started to walk up on me and I protested alone. I continued my demands to bring those who are responsible for the death of my professor to justice, and his killing remains a mystery until today.

Since 2007, the university became a safe heaven for the terrorists. They attempted to kill the dean of the college of dentistry Dr. Tahani Sanduq. They attempted to kill many active students and professors inside the university as well. They had the authority to reach out everywhere they wished in the university. This was the second time where the voice of weapons rises over the voice of reason and science. I continued to look for a convincing answer to my question: why did the academics failed to face terrorism?

In 2011, a small research unit was formed by the name “the unit for the study of Istishraq” ( for studying orientalism. Orientalism, from terrorism perspective, is a fatal crime could result in the death of anyone approaches this field of study, for they think that those who study orientalism are also orientalists seeking to deliver Western values to an Islamic society! I was a member of this unit and we used to conduct our meetings in secret as we were aware of the risks we were exposing ourselves to by studying this delicate subject. We conducted our meetings only within the university and not open to the public! We did not only fear for our lives, but we also feared that we might get a rat among us who will rat about us and our activities. Therefore, we only limited our invitations to those academics that we trusted. We discussed thoroughly the concept of the “Academic” to understand and find answers about the academic’s role in all the chaos surrounding us, but with no success!

In mid 2012, and after the rise of terrorist groups and attacks in Mosul, I was involved in many dialogs with one of my professors about the concept of Freedom, its importance, and the fact that the main reason for all the chaos we are in is rooted in the failure of our understanding of the concept of Freedom that we learned; because the concept of Freedom that we received was stripped of its soul and value, tailored to fit authority only, and confines to “cultural limitations” to protect the “conservative society” from collapsing. I decided to study all historical and cultural texts written in Mosul during the last century and I found that all those products of thought were laying the foundation for this idea of deformed freedom stripped of its value. Hence, all the failed attempts to reform were frivolous.

The idea that came to my mind about deconstructing and reconstructing the concept of Freedom and the Academic pushed me to search for a way for me to teach at the university as a teacher, and I got that chance after I earned my masters degree. It was the golden chance for me to respond to the previous failures in academics. In my first class, I told my students “abandon all curricular books, they are ill written”!, Then decided “write history by yourselves!”. Since the beginning of 2013, students started to write the city’s history through their own accounts and became more familiar with history. I was trying, with my students, to redefine the concept of the “Academic” and its role in the daily life of the city, particularly the role and responsibilities lies on the historian in writing history. I was giving them the necessary training that qualifies them to become the future historians of Mosul outside the authority of the “conservative society”.

In less than a year, the catastrophe dawned on us. It also was a very difficult test for the value and essence of the “Academic” and the historian’s role. The Islamic state arrived to Mosul on June 6th, 2014. It invaded the city and declared its version of history that imposed on Mosul. At this confrontational moment, I feared that I will fail regardless of all the internal dialogs I had since the moment the previous regime collapsed and the scenes of looting the university in 2003. I knew that the ultimate price to confront this deformed version of history was death. I also knew that the only instrument to confront those who decide to carry weapons is to deweaponize the history they carry; that evens us, and all weapons the terrorist could carry will not stand a chance in front of the historian and the Academic power, and will discover that the version of history the terrorist is carrying will not stand a chance in front of the truth. Hence, Mosul Eye came to existence right at the moment the Islamic state invaded Mosul until today.

My goal of establishing Mosul Eye was not only to confront ISIS, but also to redefine the university and academia, and liberate them from the power of falsified truth and freedom. Also to re-enable the academic and rejuvenate its vital role in the daily life of his/her city, any city for that matter. And today, after the experience of three years of practicing history in the face of the Islamic state, our mission is still difficult to materialize liberty to the university of Mosul. After the defeat of ISIS in Mosul, the university fell under the authority of militias, but this time is different than 2003 and 2014; today, there are real academics who can practice their real duty in facing totalitarian authority and falsified versions of history.

The university of Mosul will continue to seek support and cooperation; I recently launched an initiative to invite academics from Western universities to visit the university of Mosul, reconnect with its academics, and create a network to exchange and support them in continuing their duties to establish a solid academic future capable of standing in the face of historical turning events such as ISIS’ moment.

7 thoughts on “Academics Vs. Terrorists – How Terrorism hijacked the University of Mosul and how the academics liberated it

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  1. If anyone did not believe in the old adage “The pen is mightier than the sword”, then they would only need to read your post to change their mind. I salute you for your bravery and academic passion and integrity. Thanks for an inspiring post, I wish you every success in your work.

  2. You are a shining light of hope. I’ve read your reports for several years now and am so happy to know the situation in Mosul is becoming more humane. Thank you so much for your insightful reports and all the work you are doing to make life better for all.

  3. When I worked as a professor, the department and the individual instructors received many textbooks for consideration as class textbooks. The publishing companies did not require the department or instructors to return the ‘for consideration’ textbooks. Hundreds of textbooks accumulated on shelves at the back of the department offices.

    All the departments had similar shelves loaded with books. From time to time, the departments dumped the books.

    In the college and university bookstores, I saw the prices — to the students — of the textbooks. Incredible. Young students with low-pay work might work for a week to buy the textbooks required for one class.

    I took some books to give away to students.

    Some instructors took all the books they could carry — to their homes. From time to time, they sold the books to used textbook wholesalers. If they could not sell the books, they trashed the books.

    I, myself, went to the home of a high-school teacher and loaded so many books in a standard sedan that the sedan sagged on its springs. Many hundreds of kilos of books, dictionaries, encyclopedias, notebooks, whatever — all give-aways from publishers.

    In a previous comment to Mosul Eye, I asked if Iraq would allow cargo containers to pass from the seaport to Mosul. No reply.

    Please consider this. I am no longer a professor, I work international documentaries, yet I could contact professors, high school teachers, administrators to accumulate books.

    We would need the funding to buy a container and a location to park the container for months.

    Calculate the value of the books. In Iraq, you could sort through the books. The books you want, you keep. The books you don’t want, you sell.

    The sales of the thousands of books you don’t want for your library might pay for the collection and transport of the container.

    I have experience with this in Central America, Arab nations, and Africa. Here in the United States, valuable book go to the dumps. The question is, can concerned academics find a means to send books to you?

  4. Every person who wants to live a life WITHOUT ARMED VIOLENCE must consider a social structure that takes that into account. Just ignoring the people with guns does not integrate with that structure.

  5. Very good essay, Omar, but do you know of people now in Mosul who have the power and the will to make the University a bastion of academic freedom? Many people will applaud what you write, but will they act?

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