Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Higher Education in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq - Part I

By Salman Ahmed Rasul 
                                 AUIS Campus 

This article is the first of a two part special report on higher education in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

The system of higher education in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq faces a lot of challenges and problems. The quality of the system in general, in terms of conducting scientific and high quality research has been criticized by the local media, public opinion, and many international media platforms. Even some high governmental officials of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have admitted to the existence of the low quality system, including Dlawer Abdul-Aziz Ala'Aldeen himself, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

The local media, both independent and Kurdish political media have revealed that academic qualifications and the role of the universities are under question in the region. Major problems are the absence of complete academic freedom, suppression of freedom of speech, and political charges and interference of politicians over the public and private universities.

However, there has been plenty of excellent progress in improving higher education quality since Barham Salih, Prime Minister of KRG, appointed Ala'Aldeen as the Minister. Despite insurmountable political barriers and struggles, they both are truly continuing to make a lot of efforts to reform extensively. Having said that, from the quality standpoint, the KRG’s Human Capacity Development Program (HCDP) which awards scholarships to graduate students to study abroad, and the opening of new universities in Raparin, Halabja, Zakho, and Garmyan are two immensely popular achievements of his cabinet.

Ala'Aldeen does not conceal encountering difficulties and radical changes. "Reform of Higher Education and Scientific Research in Kurdistan is a big challenge that requires a clear vision and a well thought out road map. Here, the top level strategies mentioned are to provide a frame work for the Ministry’s future activities, and to generate lively debates in the academic community. The issues are complex and the challenge is enormous, however, these are not overwhelmingly so. We shall brain-storm every milestone, and with the determination and hard work of the academic leaders, we shall move from one milestone to another.” Ala'Aldeen wrote a vision and strategy titled "A Vision to the Future of Higher Education in Kurdistan” which was published on the official website of the ministry on November 8, 2009.

Besides the lack of practical sessions, logical arguments, discussions and training, lecturing is the main priority and common technique of teaching in the majority of the professors.

Thomas Hill, clinical assistant professor at New York University's Center for Global Affairs, who has been working, conducting research, monitoring and leading discussions and workshops with professors and students at the universities throughout the Kurdistan Region for 11 years, exposed the biggest obstacles of the universities. He criticized the way that professors teach and lecture.

"I know that all of the public universities struggle with issues related to financial resources and developing modern facilities,” he said. "To me, however, the biggest issue facing the universities in the Kurdistan Region is finding ways to encourage new and more effective methods of learning, teaching and research. Lecturing is still the primary method used by most professors, even though it has been demonstrated that adults, even young adults learn most effectively when more interactive approaches to education are used.”

Hill also encouraged students alongside the professors to be more responsible and active. "Students in the Kurdistan Region also have to take greater responsibility for being active learners. One way they can do this is by undertaking more rigorous research.”

Furthermore, Hill admitted that it is not an easy process to work on large collections of books and research for the universities here, but there are still other ways to achieve increasing knowledge. "I understand that it is still very difficult for the universities to develop large collections of books in their libraries, but there are other forms of research that can be utilized, such as exploring reputable scholarly materials available on the internet and conducting field research in their communities that can help develop knowledge for the communities as well as for the student researchers.”

Hill was generally speaking about public universities. To know about major problems of private universities, Athanasios Moulakis, President and Provost of the American University of Iraq Sulaimani (AUIS), indicated the difficulties that they face. While MoHESR ranked AUIS as the top university among the private universities in the Kurdistan Region, it is still not far from several problems, even so distinct problems. At least, it cannot prevent difficulties that come up from improving things at the margin.

Moulakis said they have to keep all the balls in the air at the same time which is inevitable. "Most of the difficulties we face are connected to our being a very young institution. In well established institutions you can content yourself with improving things at the margin. In a "start-up” you have to keep all the balls in the air at the same time, obviously you will drop some. AUIS has, however, been making very rapid progress and we look forward to the future with confidence and high hopes.”

Unlike the public universities, AUIS attempts to eliminate the financial crisis by raising funds from different sources such as donations from local and international companies, businessmen, and student tuition fees. Moulakis clearly stated that "As a private non-profit institution AUIS must raise the funds needed for its operation.”

"Charging fees is, of course, something of a challenge in a country accustomed to state institutions that provide higher education for free – or, more exactly at public expense,” Moulakis added, "The enormous support we have received from individuals, businesses and civil society in the region and beyond is an excellent sign that we can look forward to continued material and moral support as we grow stronger in the service of the people of this region.” 

This article first appeared on

Higher Education in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq - Part II
By Salman Ahmed Rasul

                               New Campus of Sulaimani University Photo by

This article is the second of a two part special report on higher education in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. 

In addition to illustrating the difficulties of the higher educational system in the Kurdistan region in the first part of this article, Thomas Hill also discussed awhat needs to be changed, and what is required to be done.
From Hill’s point of view, what needs to be changed is the students and professors minds against old hierarchies. The process of learning is not only from the professors to the students, but also the exchange of knowledge that can be transferred from the students to the professors and as well as among the students themselves.

"I think the main change that needs to happen is a shift in thinking by students and professors to break down old hierarchies so that they can learn from each other,” said Hill. "Professors can learn as much from their students as students learn from their professors and other students. Professors who employ new, interactive student-centered teaching techniques and students who undertake new forms of critical research can lead this transition.”

Hill’s response about the requirements of this change is encouraging the students and professors by leaders who make policies of higher education. "Of course, they also need to be encouraged to take these steps by the political and university leaders who make higher education policies for the Kurdistan Region.”

Athanasios Moulakis spoke about AUIS in more detail by stating that it is the only educational institution in Iraq that provides American-style liberal arts education. He said AUIS has met resistance by those people who are not familiar with its style. "The innovations that AUIS introduces to Iraqi and Kurdish education, for example the pattern of student-centered learning and the single core in arts and sciences taken by all students, regardless of what their major will be, rather than immediate specialization into "faculties” according to the antiquated ways of the traditional national universities, meets with resistance by the public, students and their parents, who are unfamiliar with these approaches.”

Moreover, Hill’s comprehension about the current role of universities in the current and future developments of the Kurdistan Region in terms of improving high standards of education, economic and political developments was having lots of young, bright, inquisitive college students in Kurdistan who need to be taught critical thinking and effective planning of research, and then need to be employed.

"Every bit of public and private practice in the region needs to be exposed to critical, scholarly inquiry through a reflective research process,” said Hill, "The leaders of the region need to welcome this scholarly criticism and commit to turning the best ideas that emerge from this process into new policies that will benefit all the people in the region. There are plenty of young, bright, curious university students throughout the Kurdistan Region, and, indeed, throughout Iraq. They need to be encouraged to learn new research methods, to employ them, to share their research outcomes widely, and then to see that the region's leaders value their critical thinking by developing innovative new policies that take advantage of what the region's best and brightest minds can produce.”

Moulakis also said that they have met resistance to their innovations. "Yet our task is precisely to innovate, to introduce a fresh and better way for students to realize their full potential for themselves, their families, their employers and their country. One can say, therefore, that we need to overcome resistance to our innovative ways to do our work. Overcoming such resistance, opening new horizons is, however, not only a means but also an end: Change for the better is our work, and it will be borne out by the recognized excellence of our graduates.”

One of Ala'Aldeen’s main reform dimensions is a vision not only to the current, but also to the future of educational systems by prioritizing quality assurance. "The role of higher education institutions (HEI) in the process of nation-building is indispensible. Raising standards in these institutions has long been a top priority for the people and Government of Kurdistan Region,” Ala'Aldeen added: "(MoHESR) will embark on reviewing the entire system of higher education, in a way that no legal or administrative barrier would be considered too sacred to change. On the contrary, they will all have to be removed to accommodate reform and serve the ultimate purpose, namely, improving quality and raising standards. Even the role of the Ministry and the Government in HE would have to be re-defined.”

Finally, the biggest concern of a lot of people is the continuation and protection of the reform process after Ala'Aldeen. What will happen after changing the current cabinet of KRG for the next two years? It seems that by changing the current Prime Minister, the minister of HESR will be replaced by another person. The question is will his vision and the process of reform continue after he leaves his office? 

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Political charges

AUIS disputes board interference

By Salman Ahmed Rasul
                   U.S. Ambassador Christopher R. Hill, and Prime Minister of KRG, Barham Salih, First AUIS MBA Graduation Ceremony 

The members of the AUIS Board of Regents and Board of Trustee do not try to use their political relationships to influence the University in spite of what some people, including an American journalist, have suggested, AUIS officials told the Voice.

These critics of AUIS are not familiar with the University and do not know what is going on at the school, the officials said. Some of them do not want the AUIS to be victorious.

Michael Rubin, an American journalist, has criticized AUIS several times. He most recently wrote an article titled “Trouble Brewing for the American University of Iraq?” that was published by the National Review On-line on April 21.

“Let’s hope that the American University of Iraq [sic] will remain more American than Iraqi. Perhaps soon the American University of Iraq [sic] will take steps to reduce its own political vulnerability by limiting the potential for political influence and abuse on its governing board of regents,” Rubin wrote for the NRO.

Barham Salih, the chairman of the AUIS Board of Trustees and the prime minister of the KRG, said he will not respond to every journalist and politician who criticizes AUIS. But, in an interview at a picnic for AUIS on April 30, Salih said there is no “political influence” over the University. He said the University does have politicians on its Board of Regents.
But there is “complete academic freedom,” he said of the Board of Regents, an honorary body that does not govern, make rules or policies.

In a written response to the NRO, John Agresto, the AUIS Provost, said he was confused by Rubin’s attacks.
“I am not sure I fully know why my one-time friend, Michael Rubin, has it in so badly for the American University of Iraq [sic]. Maybe he loves us and wants us to succeed. Maybe, in which case, he should get his facts straight,” Agresto wrote.

Agresto also acknowledged that there are prominent political and business figures on the honorary Board of Regents, including a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq. But they do not govern or make policy, he said.
The six members of the Board of Regents are Jalal Talabani (Chairman), Adil Abdul-Mahdi, Hacem Al- Hassani, Ayad Allawi, Nechirvan Barzani and Zalmay Khalizad.

“I am not only a founding Board member and NRO contributor, but I am also provost and dean of the faculty at AUIS.” he said, “Never, in our two and a half year history, have I ever been asked to hire or fire someone, add a course or subtract one, raise or lower an instructor’s salary- or do anything that would compromise the academic integrity of AUI,S in any way,” Agresto wrote.

Joshua Mitchell, acting chancellor of AUIS, also said Rubin’s claims are not founded.
“It is unfortunate that Mr. Rubin uses every opportunity he can to assault AUIS,” Mitchell said in a written response to the Voice. “His central claim, of course, is that AUIS is ‘political,’ the proof of which, he claims, is that there are political figures on the Board of Regents. Provost Agresto’s recent posting in the NRO puts to rest any doubt about the political influence of the Board here at AUIS.”

Azzam Alwash, one of Board of Trustees, said is perturbed by such accusation. It is not the first time for him to hear such accusations, he wrote in a reply to the Voice.
“I suspect that these kinds of accusations are based on a misunderstanding of the governing structure of the University which is comprised of a Board of Trustees and a Board of Regents,” he said.
Alwash said the regents have a role to open doors to donor counties and organizations, which helps the University.
“The regents’ role is rather limited to opening doors to the donor countries and organizations that encourage the independence of educational institutes from the government,” he said. “The Board of Regents does not control nor influence the academic policies or the running of the University affairs. The Board of Trustees is tasked with giving guidelines to the administration of the University and the trustees have no right to affect the daily affairs of the University.”
Alwash agreed that the regents are political figures but pointed out that the trustees are not.

Kanan Makiya, a member Board of Trustees, he has been involving from the very beginning. AUIS opened in 2007.
“I think this accusation is totally misguided and betrays ignorance of the University,” Makiya said. “There has never been a single instance of ‘political interference’ or of politicization of the University’s decisions that I know of, and I have been involved from the very beginning.”

There are 11 members of the Board of Trustees of AUIS. They are Barham Salih (President), John Agresto, Fu’ad Ajami, Alwash, Rajaa KHuzai, Makiya, Jamil Mroue, Herish Muharam, Basil Al-Rahim, Abdul Rahman Al- Rashid and Faruk Rasoul.

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The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani Hosted Its First International Conference 

By Salman Ahmed Rasul 

 Dlawer Abdul-Aziz Ala'Aldeen, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research of the Kurdistan Regional Government discusses with AUIS students in the library after the first session of the conference on November 25, 2011. Photo: Salman Ahmed/

Since, the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) was opened in 2007; there have been a lot of seminars, workshops, debates, panel discussions, and conferences that were taking place at the university.

The most recent one was the first AUIS’ International Conference on November 24-25, 2011 on "Democracy, Liberty, and the New Realities of the Middle East and North Africa.” Some American experts participated to discuss this topic, including former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, the      

Republic of Korea, Poland, and the Republic of Macedonia Christopher R. Hill, from the University of Denver, Josef Korbel School of International Studies. He discussed on “Iraq’s democratic struggle and what it means for the Middle East and North Africa.”

Athanasios Moulakis, President and Provost of AUIS said that the main purpose of the conference is “Promoting responsible democratic citizenship is an essential part of the University’s mission. It is furthermore important to advance the understanding of current affairs in the context of rigorous, well informed scholarly analysis.”

Dlawer Abdul-Aziz Ala'Aldeen, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) attended in the second day of the conference. He asked some questions and gave some comments. After the conference, he stated that the scholars have a lot of experience and knowledge that they shared during the conference for the attendees. “They are international experts who have experience as well as knowledge. Many of them have lived in Iraq. From point of authority, they have contributed to shaping the current and the future of Iraq; therefore, listening to their take home message, listening to their advice, and listening to the long stories that they carry with them through their experience in Iraq was fascinating,” Ala’Aldeen said, “I found that what they were presenting was a global view of events that may apply to many countries which go through transition from autocratic governments to democracies. So, there was plenty of interesting debates and stimulating discussions.”

Larry Diamond from the Stanford University was another speaker of the conference. He is currently a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, where he leads the Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. The title of his discussion was “The Flow and Ebb of Democracy’s Third Wave in the Middle East and North Africa.”

Diamond believes that democracy is still under an uncertain journey in the Arab World, but he is optimistic only about Tunisia to be a democratic country in the future after Zein El Abidine Ben Ali because of three reasons: no oil, a moderate Islamic Party, and a significant and educated middle class. “Tunisia does not have oil--that is a huge plus, ironically. Oil is a curse. There is no oil-dependent developing country that is a democracy. Second, Tunisia is relatively developed and well educated compared to the other non-oil-rich Arab countries, and it has a significant middle class. Third, its Islamist party, Ennahda, is relatively moderate, and is sending encouraging signals of tolerance and compromise. It is acting much more like the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey than hard-core fundamentalist Islamists,” Diamond said.

Moreover, Diamond is pessimistic about other countries in the Arab World, especially Egypt because of two obstacles;the Muslim Brotherhood and the military. “I am worried that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is much less tolerant and has a more militant and hegemonic agenda for Egypt. Libya has to rebuild its entire state; Yemen has been on the brink of civil war with incredibly deep divisions. Also, in Egypt the military remains dominant and hostile to democracy, while in Tunisia the military is standing back and letting a democratic transition unfold,” he added.

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By Salman Ahmed Rasul
AUI-S Voice Staff Reporter 

Bryan H. Smith is an assistant professor and Convener of International Studies at AUI-S. He teaches philosophy, and a few weeks ago he started a philosophical club with Athanasios Moulakis, the Provost of AUI-S, James Harrigan, the Dean of Students, and Louis Petrich to provide more philosophical material for the students, and to make the students to be more familiar with philosophy texts. This time AUI-S Voice chose Bryan to respond our questions about several different issues here at AUI-S.

Would you tell us about your academic background? And if you want to tell us a little bit about your personal life, it will be gratifying.
The most important part of my academic background is that I studied as an undergraduate at the University of Alberta (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada). That this is important—in fact the most important fact of my academic background—may be surprising. It may be surprising for a couple of reasons.
First, as an undergraduate, I was directionless and not particularly interested in school. If I had a reason for going to the University of Alberta it was to play sports, indulge in other entertainment, and because this is what I was supposed to do in order to eventually find a career.
Second, the University of Alberta was not particularly good either. No serious attempt was made to educate students. “Liberal” education was often a dirty word. Professors were more interested in publishing than teaching. And the education that was administered was often hyper-specialized, democratized, and politicized. In short, it was a typical over-sized under achieving North American university. Quite the opposite of what we have here at AUI-S.
Given, then, my disposition as an undergraduate and that of the U. of A., it might seem a little surprising that this is the place I would specify as the most important part of my academic background. My youthful disposition aside, the U. of A. seemed an improbable place to discover anything, let alone anything great. As chance would have it,however, I did.
I came across two teachers who were great: Professor Leon H. Craig and Professor Heidi D. Studer. They were the single greatest influence on my academic career. More importantly, they changed my life. Because of these teachers, I started to study. Because of these teachers, I wanted to study. Because of these teachers I eventually decided to go to graduate school and try to become a teacher myself. For me, they are living the standard to which I aim and measure my success.
These teachers showed me the nobility of philosophy. That studying political philosophy could “be a students’ most sobering, enlivening, refining, and liberating experience” and that the questions of political philosophy not only address the perennial questions facing mankind(What is justice? and What is the best regime?) but that it also addresses questions of the great personal importance, questions of immediate concern to us all: “What is the best life? What is the best life for me?”I still remember these words from my Introduction to Political Philosophy Syllabus.
This changed everything for me. This unlikely place in the middle of nowhere became the best place on earth. These two teachers made school and learning important. School became something great, real, and personal.School became the place where I was encouraged to learn from the great books in order to learn how to live my life, in order to maximize the best things in life. Before studying under these teachers,I was not a good student (and probably the less said about that the better). After,I wanted to do nothing but study great books and consider the great questions of political philosophy. I was bitten by the Gadfly and couldn’t think, dream,or want much of anything else.
From there, in order to pursue graduate studies, I moved to New York. I received a Masters of Arts and Ph.D. from Fordham University.Graduate School was good for me for many reasons. Besides living in New York on my own, I was able to teach throughout my graduate school education. For those years, then, I taught and learned about the great books and when I wasn’t studying or in the classroom, I could go out and play in a city filled with some of the greatest art currently collected by man.
What is your responsibility and task here at AUI-S as an assistant professor and Convener of International Studies (your role)?
My highest responsibility here at AUI-S is as a teacher:to educate the students;to not make students worse—but hopefully and perhaps better—in respect to human excellence; and to help elevate, free, and refine students’ souls. In short, my most important task—my best task here at AUI-S—is to provide students with a liberal arts education.
As the Convener of International Studies, I facilitate and coordinate the administration of this Major by managing the curriculum, by helping in the University’s hiring process, by supporting the Provost, and by promoting, reviewing, and evaluating the International Studies Major.
You have said before that philosophy has something in common with the liberal arts and that AUI-S is a “university offering a comprehensive American-style liberal arts education”.But International Studies students only take “Political Philosophy” and “Philosophy and Ethics”.Still less, the other students from other Majors take only one course in philosophy. Don’t you think that AUI-S should offer a new field in philosophy, or at least gives the students more opportunity to study philosophy by offering more courses for the university requirements?
Starting with the first part of your question, yes, philosophy and the liberal arts do have much in common. I have heard one teacher here describe philosophy as the core of the Core. Philosophy, in part, aims to go beyond one’s time and place to find something true, not something true here and now but something true simply, always and everywhere. Plato’s Socrates wonderfully illustrates this in his Allegory of the Cave (Plato, Republic, at the start of Book VII). Likewise, the literal meaning of a liberal arts education points to the same end. The literal meaning of a “liberal” arts education is to free you. Hence, the aims of a liberal arts education and philosophy in this sense are the same.
Philosophy, however, is not simply the pursuit of truth, or at least should not be. If it were, Socrates would have legally deserved the hemlock and should not deserve our admiration.
Philosophy at its height, then, seems both noble and good. Our liberal arts education attempts a similar high and difficult aim. At AUI-S we attempt to not just make you smart about this or that but we aim to make you good as well. The introduction to philosophy at AUI-S takes place alongside an introduction to ethics or as its titled, “Philosophy and Ethics” (PHI 202). The aim of “Political Philosophy” (POL 401) takes a similar consideration and aim.
Hence, philosophy and the liberal arts education here at AUI-S doesn’t attempt to free students from all restraints. Our aim is not to make students wild. Our aim is to open students to the best parts of themselves,to unbindyou from the shackles of mediocrity, to open your world to the highest possibilities and to the biggest questions, to cultivate a taste in you for the very best things a human being can expect or want from this world.
This is also why philosophy and the liberal arts are also the best way to prepare students for the everyday realities of post-graduate life: employment, family, politics ...etc. Our recent victories in Computer Science demonstrate our students are not hurt but helped by studying Plato. Why? Because both philosophy and a liberal arts education aim at a comprehensive understanding of our world.By seeing the big picture, you see all the possibilities. By training yourself to look for all the implications, all the scenarios, all the parts and how they fit together to form a whole you prepare yourself to be able to think through any difficulty and to tackle any and all problems. The comprehensive education of both philosophy and the liberal arts, then, makes students good in the sense that it makes you competent to understand and deal with this world.
By aiming to educate the whole soul, the entire human being, and not merely one part, we at AUI-S attempt to prepare students to see the entire world in all its beauty and glory, to help you make sense and be able to read the wonders of nature and convention.Liberal arts education, then,aims to educate the entire human being by exposing students to the most important questions a human being can ask as well as how they can be met here and now. Living as well as living well, combining the real with the ideal, the noble with the good, this is what we aim for here at AUI-S.
This accords with the understanding of philosophy at its foundation. It was only later, that philosophy or the sciences (knowledge) became separated into distinct sub-disciplines. It is in modernity that philosophy abandons the attempt at a comprehensive understanding or wisdom. The education here at AUI-S isn’t partisan or restricted to the weaknesses of modern education. We do not aim low to only give you a partial understanding of yourselves and your world.We aim high for the best reasons as well as the most practical.
Perhaps to best see how philosophy and liberal arts education are similar, consider Aristotle. This philosopher’s written works touch every part of life, not just metaphysics and epistemology. His works, like the works of all great philosophers, show a considered study of our entire world. Hence, to directly address the second part of your question, we needn’t necessarily give more philosophy courses here at AUI-S. All the courses here at AUI-S already help students to explore the world in all its wonder. In this sense, Ms. Lora’s “Macro Molecule Lab” is as philosophically important as your introduction to Aristophanes’ Clouds and Plato’s Apology of Socrates.
The practical virtues of studying Aristotle are exemplified in his best student, Alexander the Great. The American tradition inherited this liberal arts tradition and, hence, is why we, in part, have the word in the name of our school.
Having said that, philosophy does have a beauty all its own and as the university grows, it is quite reasonable that more courses devoted to philosophy could become available to students.
For the first time, you offer a Philosophy Reading Group or Philosophy Club. Can you tell us what this club is about and what the purpose of the club is? Who can attend? Who is in the panel to lead the discussion? What is the material that you cover during the sessions? And how is the contribution of the students?
This is an after school reading group. It was initiated by former students, particularly Bahman Abdulrahman Hassan and Krekar Muhammad Mustafa. The purpose of the club is simply to allow interested students, staff, and faculty the opportunity to gather to read, to discuss, and to study philosophy.
Anyone at AUI-S can attend. Regardless of your experience, all are welcome. You need only to be willing to cultivate an open mind and a desire to learn.
Dean James Harrigan and Mr. Louis Petrich lead discussion on Mondays (4-5pm). Dr. Moulakis and I lead discussion on Wednesdays (3:45-4:45pm).
We are reading Plato’s Republic. (We are going at a pace comfortable to the students, given students are already studying a minimum of 12 hours a week per class.) We usually try to cover one argument a week. The amount, then, ranges from 2-10 pages of reading.
Student participation has been good. Some are carefully listening, while others are asking very good questions that range from important practical questions of interpretation (How can you read a book this way, asking questions of every word and line?) to difficult questions about human sexuality and the proof of the soul.
What do you think about philosophy in general? Is it “destructive”? Is it constructive? Or both?Why?And why not?
Philosophy can be very destructive and harmful. It doesn’t have to be, however. Philosophy, or political philosophy, philosophy that is both noble and good, was born in the death of a man some 2,0000 years ago. Socrates showed that philosophy can be noble and good. In fact, Socrates showed that, arguably, it is the best life for a human being. This is, arguably, how our tradition of philosophy was founded and how it has perpetuated itself throughout the vicissitudes of time.
Who is your favorite philosopher?And, why?
I’m a bit of a glutton and have many favorites throughout the tradition. My teachers cultivated in me a taste for the great books: philosophic poets like Homer, Aristophanes, and Shakespeare as well as poetic philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Bacon, Locke, Rousseau, and Nietzsche. If, however, I had to pick one, I would have to say my hero was Socrates.
Why Socrates? ... Come to the Philosophy Reading Group and find out for yourself.

This interview first appeared on 
Kurdistan Region Needs Good Journalists as Much as Good Politicians 

By Salman Ahmed Rasul

Kurdish security forces attack demonstrators and journalists in Sulaimaniyah, Kurdistan region of Iraq. April 18. 2011. Photo credit: Haedar Omar

Kurdistan region needs responsible and professional journalists as much as they need expert politicians. On the one hand, it is moral and everybody’s duty here is to endorse the region, especially the journalists and writers who cover and demonstrate the region for the international community. On the other hand, when they see something wrong, they do not have to be neither silent nor exaggerated. They should be objective, critical, unbiased, separating opinion from news, and tell the truth to avoid misunderstanding in order to have ethical standards.

I want to share one of my personal experiences in journalism here to keep my “nut graph” simple and more clear to make a point. I published an article on UPIU on December 1, 2011 which was published on some other websites later as well. I mentioned Kurdistan region as a safe haven of Iraq in this article that so many foreigners, including international experts can travel only to one spot of the country without concern about the security issues. This is why the New York Times listed Kurdistan as one of the top 41 places to travel around the world on Jan 9, 2011!A short time after I published my story, a very professional American journalist in almost every sense of journalism in Washington D.C. criticized me that I am promoting and advertising Kurdistan. She told me that the first paragraph of my story veers into public relations territory. It reads more like a brochure advertising Kurdistan than a news story.

She also said, “Yes, it is news that The New York Times touted the region as a top place to travel, but do not allow that to mar your news story. Focus on the news, not on promoting Kurdistan. The reality of the situation on its own is enough of an argument that the region is safe to visit!” I whole-heartedly agree that she is right, but as a matter of fact, generally I realized that this is the nature of the Kurds as the largest stateless nation in the world without an independent country in the process of recovering and serving their only Kurdish autonomous territory who are very patriotic and nationalistic due to facing a lot of genocide, massacre, horrific events and barbarism throughout history, especially during 1980s under Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Quite frankly, I found out for myself when I wrote the first paragraph of my story, I was in a position where I had to make a choice between two good things: either a positive Kurdish patriotic or a professional journalist which is a kind of tough decision to implement. My point is you have unequivocally the right to affiliate with any political party you want. You have the right to support your political background and protect all of your identities. You have the right to express your feelings for your own country and to be in sympathy with its legacies, accomplishments, and glories, but if you want to be a professional journalist, this is a different story.

If we analyze the recent riots in Badinan as an example that is covered by the local media on a massive scale, we easily recognize that the local media is not professional. 2011 was the period of transition, full of unforeseen situations, events, untold incidents and devastations in the Middle East. The Kurdistan region of Iraq also faced some of the transitions. In the very beginning of the last month of 2011, a group of young people who were led by a handful of preachers rioted in a protest right after Friday noon prayers on December 2 in Zakho. They attacked and burnt some hotels, alcohol stores and a massage parlor. In the evening, the headquarters of Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) in Duhok and its offices in Zakho and in some other districts around were burnt as well. Some people compared this internal unrest with London riots. This violent incident became one of the major events that brought a serious widespread local media attention in 2011. It was covered by the media in variety of viewpoints due to the influence of political affiliations over media, journalists, and political analysts.

There are various interpretations such as misinterpretations, possible assumptions, and fair understanding of the event. Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has claimed that it has been instigated primarily by members and supporters of KIU, and KIU replied that what KDP has said in the media is a fabricated legend, and in fact, it is an implausible scenario by KDP and denied all the theoretical and practical implication of their supporters among the rioters.

The good thing is no one was killed. KDP can tackle all the crises financially and reimburse KIU easily similar to identical incident in 2005 for the cost of their offices and communications departments. They can also reimburse these people, who lost their properties, but the solution is not money because the cost is not only money. The bad thing is such an event could damage the region’s reputation internationally.

Emphasizing on condemning such an action by both the authorities and public opinion and revealing who was responsible is essential, but even the more underlying strategic aim should focus more on the image of the Kurdistan region abroad. The U.S. State Department tells American tourists to be cautious not to visit Iraq due to security issues, but according to the British foreign policy, Kurdistan is an outstanding spot. "While the State Department continues to warn American tourists to avoid Iraq entirely, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office says the Kurdistan region is an exception," wrote The New York Times.“ Safety, history and a warm welcome in a stable corner of Iraq.” CNN also on its recent report that indicted the developments of the region defined Kurdistan as the other Iraq, safe, peaceful, and stable. These are all a testament to the safety of the Kurdistan region. I do not want to make the same mistake here to advertise Kurdistan, but I have to provide evidence to verify the information, and despite the existence of corruption, the absence of deep transparency in the executive power, and deficiency in the judiciary and the legislative branch, but those undeniable proofs show the image of the stable region abroad that every individual is responsible to shield it from such a harmful riot.

The Kurdish authority has an incredible opportunity to elevate to a better image. They have to make more efforts to improve and add positive things on the image, and they have to strive to protect the image of that kind of prosperous region. As Michael Rubin mentioned in his article on the incident that KRG’s representatives abroad are more aware of the region’s reputation more than local senior officials. “The Kurdish representative realized more than those on Sar-e Rash the damage it could do to the region’s image abroad.” He wrote. Therefore, their priority should be protecting the image first, and then build on what they have started and achieved since the Kurdish uprising of 1991 because if they cannot protect the image, they will not be able to move forward. This will defiantly be damaging to the process of reconstruction of the region.

Journalists are responsible as much as politicians. There are always two sides to a story. The journalists should not polish their stories and perspectives for the sake of their political affiliations. Professional journalists are those who can think not only the corner, but around the corner as well, those who think and check the facts not only inside the box, but also outside the box wisely.

Stability is an achievement that is different in the region from the other parts of Iraq. It has been a rescued place for high Iraqi opposition leaders since 1990s when the Iraqi opposition parties were based in Kurdistan, and currently, it is becoming a safe haven for Sunni leaders such as Vice President Tareq al Hashemi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Mutlaq. Journalists, politicians and even common people can promote and show the stability as a weapon to attract international companies to invest in the region. 

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Americans Enjoy New Life and Experiences in a Safe Haven in Iraqi Kurdistan 

By Salman Ahmed Rasul

                                 U.S. Ambassador Christopher R. Hill gives a speech at AUIS

SULAIMANIYAH, Kurdistan region 'Iraq', —  A lot of people outside of Iraq, especially in the United States and Europe hear about violence in Iraq a lot, but they do not know that there is an autonomous region (Iraqi Kurdistan) in northern Iraq, which is known as a “safe haven” not only for people from the middle and south of Iraq such as Christian minority, but also for foreigners and tourists. They do not know that Iraq in general and Kurdish region in particular has been developed since the liberation of Iraq in 2003 in terms of security, political life, economy, democracy and education. Iraqi Kurdistan is one of the 41 places to go in 2011, according to a report in the New York Times’ travel section in January, 2011. 
They are not familiar with the differences of this most stable region with the other parts of the country.

The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) opened in 2007 in the city of Sulaimaniyah in the Kurdistan region. This university is one of a massive development of the education system in Iraq where students from different ethnic groups, religions, and political backgrounds can study, play football and basketball, and live together. AUIS students managed several demonstrations to support democracy, freedom, and particularly to the recent Middle East revolutions. It is the first and only liberal arts education and accredited institution across the country.

American professors enjoy teaching Iraqi students and living in a place without concern about the safety of the region. Our American history professor has said that he has felt safer here than when he was in the U.S. Last spring, I met David Clough, a Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Colorado in Boulder at AUIS, and he told me that when people found he was coming here, they think that he is crazy. In another word, they think that in Sulaimaniyah, there are tanks going around on the streets, and there are American soldiers everywhere going around because they do not understand about this place.

At AUIS, young Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens, Christians, Shiites, and Sunnis have opportunity to meet diplomats and international experts to discuss and debate interesting issues that they had never have in the past. For example on November 24 and 25, 2011 The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) hosted its first international conference on "Democracy, Liberty, and the New Realities of the Middle East and North Africa" in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The idea of these events; conferences, panel discussions, workshops, and seminars is a chance for the students to open their minds, to think critically, and to think more deeply about important subjects.

There were some international experts who explained and discussed the concepts of democracy, liberty, and the new transition process in the Middle East such as Larry Diamond, Stanford University on “The Flow and Ebb of Democracy’s Third Wave in the Middle East and North Africa”, Sandy Lakoff, University of California San Diego on “Building Democracy in the Middle East: Opportunities and Obstacles”, Eric Brown, Hudson Institute on “After the Middle Eastern Revolutions: Making Citizens in a Dangerous World”, former U.S. Ambassador in Iraq Christopher R. Hill, University of Denver Korbel School of International Studies on “Iraq’s democratic struggle and what it means for the Middle East and North Africa”, and an essay by John Agresto, former AUIS Provost on “Democracies, Good and Bad” this was presented by a few AUIS International Studies Students.

Athanasios Moulakis, President and Provost of AUIS indicated the importance of the conference for students and the university internationally. “The conference gives our students an opportunity to meet, hear, and discuss with experts of international standing. It also strengthens ties between AUIS and first rate institutions of learning such as Stanford, UCSD, UD and the Hudson Institute and conversely brings AUIS to the attention of a broader international public, thus enhancing its reputation to the benefit of the institution and of its students and graduates, “he said.

Nevertheless, an American journalist told me that would surprise many Americans that there are places in Iraq that are safe enough for such an event to occur, but in fact, what that conference means is that people outside of Iraq, including American people and the American experts can come to Iraq without any concern about the safety at all.

Dlawer Abdul-Aziz Ala'Aldeen, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was one of the attendees. He was impressed by students’ participation. “What impressed me most was the finding that the students were actively participating. They were indeed contributing with very innovative ideas, and their questions were reflecting the depth of understanding, and their ability to think independently and argue in an academic way. So, I was very impressed by the display of the students as well as the presenters,” he said.

During the conference, the speakers had a chance to take a tour with the staff of the conference of Sulaimaniyah Museum and the Red Museum to be more familiar with the tragic history of the Kurdish people under Saddam Hussein’s regime. It is really common that places will change over the transition of the authorities. The Red Museum was a place for torturing and killing the Kurdish people, including women and children during Saddam’s regime, and today it is a museum to remind people of the atrocity, ferocity and brutality that happened in the past. Diamond explained the conference and the tour in this way, “It was a very stimulating and instructive conference. The speakers learned a lot from talking to the students and hearing their impressions, their concerns, and their aspirations for Kurdistan. We were particularly moved by the visit to the Amna Suraka Museum (The Red Museum), and to see the horrific documentation of Saddam Hussein's abuses against the Kurdish people. It is important to remember history, and to be reminded about what is at stake in building a free and democratic Iraq.” After the Baath’s devastation, people like Diamond, and his colleagues could come and conclude the panel discussion of the conference in the Red Museum on a subject where the creator of the building originally made a lot of efforts to keep people not to hear the word of democracy.

Lakoff had the most debatable discussions with the students about Islam as an obstacle to democracy, and he faced a lot of questions from the students about this issue. He is also happy with the progress of the region. “I thought it was a really good meeting because it was informative and stimulating for all of us. I especially liked the comments and questions from the students. The topic is very important for all of us so it was good that we started to think about it seriously and critically. The Middle East and North Africa are in a truly historic period of change. We need to try to understand what is happening. And the prospects for liberty and democracy depend on whether the rising generation -- students like yourself -- understand the situation and act wisely and practically and not simply continue to protest. I was also very pleased to see the progress being made at AUIS and in the Kurdish region,” he said.

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Thomas Hill teaches AUIS students Peace Building skills

By Salman Ahmed Rasul

                                                      Photo by Noor Aljanabi- AUI-S Voice 
        From left to right: Fahmi Qasem Saied, Sheikh Fuad, Othman Agha Zangana, and Hill discuss the Kirkuk issue.

The Center for Peace and Security Studies sponsored several different events during the last two weeks for Professor of New York University, Thomas Hill: two workshops about peace-building on Jan. 4 and Jan. 11, showing Pray the Devil Back to Hell movie on Jan. 9 and inviting a team of Kirkuk Council of Notables to address and discuss Kirkuk’s issue peacefully on Jan 10.

Hill is a Clinical Assistant Professor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, where he teaches peace-building. Hill invited officially by AUIS to be a part of these events.

“I came to AUIS officially for the first time in March 2010 and conducted a workshop that I believe was four days long,” he said.

“It really helped to introduce this idea of peace-building to students here at the university. I do not think it was an idea that most students had known about before. So, that was the primary value of it. I think it was a chance to open their minds to a new subject.”

To keep the idea of peace-building alive in students’ minds Hill decided to have a second workshop and to go deeper. According to what Hill said the workshops gave the a students chance to work more intensively on how the concepts of peace-building can be applied both in their own lives and all the way up to the international level.

“We spent time working on specific skills in peace-building, things like perspective taking, communication and conflict analysis, and really trying to understand them better,” Hill said. “Now, these skills can be put to work in pursuit of peace-building. So, the purpose was to give students the chance to work and think more deeply about the subject. And I was very happy because students came into the university during days that were holidays to do this work with me, and the number of students was not big.

But I felt the students who were there were very energetic and interested in the subject. And actually, by the end of workshop we were taking very much about working to go further to do more.”

About the main purposes of the workshops, Nathaniel L. Rosenblatt, assistant of the research centers said, “The purpose of the events is to expose students to different ideas, theories, and practices in resolving conflicts.” Rosenblatt said the Center for Peace and Security Studies has three main components: national reconciliation, post-conflict reconstruction and the national strategic initiative.

“The reason why we brought Mr. Thomas Hill from the New York University Center for Global Affairs is to be a part of that process,” Rosenblatt added. “His workshops, his panel discussion and the film were all about how you get people who dislike each other very much to start talking to each other, to start working together, to build economic freedom, social freedom, political freedom, and that is what has to happen in this country to normalize.

And how do you get to a point where you are an open and tolerant liberal democracy in a country that has been a dictatorship for thirty years.”

Another part of Hill’s journey at AUIS was addressing the Kirkuk issue by organizing a panel discussion about this matter.

“The panel discussion was intended to give students and others at the university some new knowledge about efforts that are taking place to make peace in Kirkuk,” Hill added.

“Very often people here, even though Kirkuk is not very far away from Sulaimani, people hear only about the violence that happens there.

And so this was really an effort to help students see that actually there are many people in Kirkuk who are working diligently to build peace, and in particular, the Council of Notables which consists of both tribal leaders and other prominent leaders in Kirkuk society from all of the different ethnic groups.

It is trying very hard to intervene and situations where bloodshed might occur, or prevent greater bloodshed than already has occurred. The idea really was to open people’s minds a bit to thinking about the role that community leaders and tribal leaders can play win building peace in Kirkuk and other places.”

“That was my second time taking part in peace building workshops,” Pola Kamal, 23, an academic student, from Kifri. “The more I participate, the more I become committed to

build peace. I participated in the panel discussion. It was an excited event and informed his about the members’ two-edged role in a democratic country.”

“The workshop was a golden opportunity for me, because I learn a great deal about peace building and conflict resolution which is extremely essential for us as Iraqis people, and in a broader sense to the Middle East,” said Shwan Sharey, 23, a junior international studies student, from Sulaimani.

“I hope AUIS will open a field of peace building and conflict resolution studies because according to a Global Peace Index by the Institute of Economics and Peace in 2010, Iraq is the last country which ranks 149, so, AUIS will involve making a better place for all of us. Hill said that it was the second time at AUIS to show a film about peacemaking.

The last movie he showed was about peace building process between Palestine and Israel called Encounter Point. This time the movie was about women peacemakers in Liberia, their efforts to make changes in Liberian government, ending civil war and inter-religious peacemaking because the one of the two women is Muslim and the other one is Christian.

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