Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Harvard, part two 

Remember the six Iraqi students coming over to Harvard to participate in the Model United Nations conference and to be exposed to academic events like the conference course Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality 1203, "Gender and the Cultures of US Imperialism"?

Well, they have
finally arrived, albeit "after missing their flight out of Baghdad, waiting at customs for five hours, and missing another connecting flight out of Chicago." The Iraqis were greeted by a full minute of applause by the other 2,200 student delegates to the Model UN, a treatment that Iraq itself sadly did not receive from the grown-up UN after rejoining the family of decent nations. Then again, the Model UN probably wasn't hell-bent on keeping Saddam in power for the rest of his life.

There was some culture shock awaiting the Iraqi students, as the "Crimson" reports:

"Arwa Nazar Hamdan, one of the University of Baghdad students, said she was surprised to receive such a warm welcome, since she had expected to be viewed as a terrorist. 'The [American] military back home treats us with hostility,' Hamdan said. 'I can see it in their eyes that they look at us as suspects'."
Arwa had another pleasant surprise in store for her: "That’s the thing we noticed when we first got here—that there were no roadside bombs going off and no explosions." With no racial profiling and violence, the trip seems to be going quite well:

"Iraqi student Quasay Mehdi Hussein said this was the first time the students attended a conference where they could speak their minds freely without being told what to say. He added that he spent more time informally talking with other delegates than participating in the conference itself."
Thus showing the firm grasp of usefulness, or lack thereof, of international talk-fests.

"In one of these conversations, Hussein spoke on Thursday with Shira Kaplan ’08, an Israeli student, at a reception hosted by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. The two students discussed the future of their region and how to teach tolerance for 'the other side,' Kaplan said. 'As an Israeli, it was a rare opportunity to meet Iraqi people,' Kaplan recalled later."
While students and their academic supervisor, professor Nazar Hamdan, have spoken openly of dangerous security climate back home, the conference-wagging, Israeli-interacting Hussein had another perspective to offer: "We have some democracy [now]. Under Saddam you weren’t allowed to think for yourself."

Since the Model UN doesn't assign countries in a straightforward manner (thus the Iraqi were actually representing Austria - or as the previous article stated,
Australia), it fell to students from the Providence College to be Iraq's Model UN representatives. Good relations were established between the real and the fake Iraqis and phone numbers exchanged. "They’re not anti-American. Their suggestions are about how to create a new Iraq," noted with apparent surprise Dhruv Taneja, one of the student organisers of the conference.

The Iraqis and their teacher also got a chance to visit
Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, which is providing assistance to Basra University. On that occasions, the guests refused to be drawn into political commentary, except for this remark by the professor (in this report called Nassar Tokan): "I can assure you with your help and assistance we will build a country that you all will be proud of."


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