In Iraq: The teaching of Fine Art is deteriorating

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_ME131101aa001.jpegThe study of illustration, painting, sculpture and similar fields is at risk in Iraq, reflecting the nation’s wavering commitment to the arts in general.

As the cradle of the Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian and Assyrian civilizations, the country has an ancient tradition of art. That continued during the Islamic Medieval Ages, then dipped after the Mongol invasion, in 1258. But in the modern era, many globally known sculptors and many world-renowned architectural designers emerged from Iraq.

Read more at Al-Fanar Media

Dispatch from Iraqi Kurdistan: Santa in Erbil - better late than never

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Dispatch from Iraqi Kurdistan: Santa in Erbil - better late than never
By: Gilgamesh Nabeel

ISTANBUL, Turkey - Travelers and security guards were visibly shocked and delighted to spot Santa Claus in the departure hall at Baghdad International Airport carrying traditional red sack of gifts on his back.

Still, at 23, Rami David an Iraqi student from Baghdad, is a little younger than most St. Nicks. Slipping into the red suit, he traveled 360 kilometers to the northeast to Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, to bring Christmas cheer to those who can’t be at home because of ISIS, the terrorist organization that has captured large swatches of Iraq and Syria.

“I have no sleigh or reindeer to reach the children displaced by ISIS in the camps around Erbil,” said David. “But I flew to them and put smiles on their faces for New Year’s Eve.”

While David decided to play the Iraqi Santa Clause long before ISIS took control of his country, afterward, he says the mission took on a new urgency.

“I had planned to visit sick children in hospitals since the beginning of the last year,” said David, “But when I saw the religious persecution of the people of Iraq, I decided to visit them.”

Since January 2014, and excluding the recent large-scale displacements from northwestern city of Heet, 1.8 million refugees have been relocated across Iraq. More than 850,000 people, or 49 percent of Iraq’s international displaced persons (IDPs), have sought sanctuary in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

The first stop on his Santa route was the Mar Elia Chaldean Catholic Church in the Ankawa suburb where more than 75 refugee families moved to since August 2014. There, the children provide shelter to the Yazidi families, displaced and persecuted by ISIS for being “non-believers.” The children draw and practice piano.

“We worked from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m.,” said David, “I was so excited to bring joy to these children that I forgot about being tired.”

Christmas celebrations were dampened this year as millions of people have been displaced after the June advances of ISIS that forced thousands of Christians, Yazidis, Shabaks and Shiite Turkmen from Mosul and Nineveh to abandon their homes.

However, there were widespread New Year’s celebrations in Baghdad and other southern cities including Najaf and Kerbala that were grander than ever. Many streets were decorated with Christmas trees – even in cities without Christian communities, as if Iraqis were making an extra effort to celebrate despite the violence.

“Christmas was observed in the camps as it used to be celebrated in Nineveh plains towns,” said David. “But there was an underlying sadness, because it was the first time that these people were away from their homes and villages.”

Earlier on Dec. 31, David visited Marhaba camp in Ankawa, a suburb of Erbil, which is filled with displaced Christians and more than 100 children.

“When I arrived at the Marhaba camp in my Santa Claus suit, the officials announced my arrival over the PA system,” said David. “The children gathered to greet me. I saw a child with a lollipopwho came out of the tent crying. I remember him, because I was there to please them but he was still crying.”

David also visited a school in Ankawa, a suburb of Erbil, where Yazidi families and more than 75 children live. The Yazidi community has faced harsh conditions after ISIS captured Sinjar and the neighboring towns in August, trapping thousands in the mountains.

“Despite living in a school, the Yazidi children weren’t all studying,” said David, “They are part of a lost generation of Iraqis.”

“I met Omar, 9, at the hotel Al Madhif Al-Da’im was living in. His family was displaced from Al-Garma (16 kilometers northeast of Fallujah). Omar was working at a nearby store and at the hotel to support his family and sisters. His father can’t work with his prosthetic limb.”

“The situation was miserable – children out of school and far from home” he added. “There is no international Yazidi organization to help them. A man told me that even the leaders of their religion have not visited them. Christian organizations have helped and some aid came from Lebanon.”

David, a English literature student, paid for it all with money he saved and a few donations from family and friends, he says.

David saw many children with special needs, but he had too little money to help them. David’s gifts consisted ofmostly stationary supplies, crayons, coloring books, clothes, shawls and gloves to help them brave the cold winter. His small presents were enough to please the children.

“The children received me with hugs and smiles – they thought I was a real Santa Claus,” said David, “It is rewarding to bring happiness to a child. I forgot my own grief and felt thankful for their joy.”

David heard many disturbing stories from the displaced families, including accounts of abducted women who attempted suicide to avoid becoming sex slaves. David has experienced displacement himself.

“I have been displaced before, and I know very well what it means,” he said. “In 2006, I had three days to leave my home, so I can imagine what it means to be forced to leave your home within a day or even hours.” “We were forced to sell our home cheaply,” David added.

“We have a new home now but that experience made me understand how horrible it is to be persecuted for your religious or ethnic background.” The holiday campaign is far from David’s first social initiative. On Christmas Day 2013, he made another Santa appearance at the children’s cancer ward of Baghdad’s Medical City Teaching Hospital.

“But this time it is much bigger and most important.” David said. “My goal is to reach humanitarians and form an organization to gather efforts to help those who have been affected by persecution.”

This article is part of an ongoing series of dispatches by ARA correspondents involving interviews with locals who make a difference.

Lebanon hit: Hard by Syrian war, growing ISIL support

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_LYB130412MG002.jpegBEIRUT, Lebanon — For more than two decades, the whirr of cranes and the hum of bulldozers have resounded through this capital city, as shiny new skyscrapers went up and buildings pock-marked by bullets and bombs came down.

The redevelopment of Beirut's downtown was intended to heal wounds from Lebanon's 15-year civil war, with hopes to draw back the international jet-setters and high-fliers who frequented its swanky bars and exclusive beach clubs before the city center was reduced to rubble.

Read more at USA Today

Voices: Defiance in the face of terror

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The Urdu teacher was dying. Tied to a chair, the Taliban militants who took over her school in a remote northern outpost of Pakistan cut her hair. Then they set her on fire.

"We are not scared of you," she screamed at her murderers as the flames caught her clothing. "We will defeat you!"

Read more at USA Today

Reporter reflects: On the Peshawar school massacre

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_GRC131025AA001.jpegDOHA—It was early morning here and I settled at my desk with a cup of coffee. Being a journalist, part of my morning routine is to read the news. I was hovering over my Twitter feed when I saw posts about an attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan.

I felt a cold sweat. I come from the same city, although my immediate family has been settled in Qatar, where there are many South Asian immigrants, for 25 years. I knew a lot of my relatives had children who attended that school.

Read more at Al-Fanar Media

Killing children: For 'vengeance'

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Textbooks soaked with blood strewn across the floor, overturned desks near small bodies with bullet holes in their faces, charred remains of females with cut strands of hair nearby – this was the devastation wreaked on students and their teachers at a school in northwest Pakistan this week.

The perpetrators, the Pakistan Taliban, called it a justifiable act of vengeance.

Read more at The Hoopla

Death toll: Reaches 141 in massacre at Pakistan school

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_EGY130826aa001.jpegLAHORE, Pakistan – Taliban gunman stormed a military-run school in Peshawar on Tuesday and massacred 141 people, nearly all children, an act of barbarism that left Pakistanis in shock as they mourned the loss of relatives and friends.

"In every street of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, someone has lost a dear one today," said Qazi Murtaza, 24, of Peshawar, whose cousin and aunt were killed in the attack. "My aunty lost her son – his funeral is tonight – and then I have to go to my uncle's house. He lost his wife."

Read more at USA Today

Tragedy strengthens: Pakistan resolve against Taliban

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_EGY130705aa003.jpegLAHORE, Pakistan — Pakistanis expressed renewed resolve Wednesday to drive extremists out of their country a day after a deadly Taliban-led attack on a school.

In the wake of the attack — which left 148 dead, including 132 students in the northwestern city of Peshawar — Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif pledged to step up a campaign that, along with U.S. drone strikes, targets militants. He also promised to lift a moratorium on the death penalty for terrorism crimes.

Read more at USA Today

UAE to: Bridge the gap between industry and academe

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_1111.jpegDUBAI—University, government and industry professionals gathered at a conference here last week amid wide—but still scattered—efforts to link higher education with industry in the United Arab Emirates.

The conference brought professionals together to discuss potential partnerships and collaboration after a 2013 regional workforce study revealed a dearth of qualified graduates in crucial industries that are looking to hire.

Read more at Al-Fanar Media

New round: Of protests hits Algerian universities

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_1111.jpegALGIERS—A growing number of students are joining protest movements that have cascaded across Algeria’s universities since the start of the academic year.

Algeria’s universities have regularly been home to waves of unrest, among students, professors and even administrators since early 2000. The unrest, however, has grown stronger during the last four years and comes amid broader societal discontent concerning a range of issues.

Read more at Al Fanar Media

Population data: Burgeoning demographic challenge

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_EGY141212aa001.jpegDifferent institutions have tried to examine the Arab world’s burgeoning demographic challenge. But calculating the impact of that challenge on higher education in the Arab world is no easy task.

Most Arab governments don’t keep accurate statistics, if they tally student enrolment in higher education at all. Researchers told Al -Fanar Media that even high-school enrolments are difficult to obtain.

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Youth bulge: Often mentioned, often ignored

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CAIRO - Cairo University English Professor Randa Abou Bakr often teaches classes of up to 300 students sitting elbow to elbow in a lecture hall.

One-on-one attention is impossible, she says. But, while overcrowding is a problem today, she shudders to think about the future.

Read more at Al-Fanar Media

Turkish delight: Rising in the university rankings

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ISTANBUL—Turkish universities, which sit at the cultural crossroads linking Europe and the Arab world, are climbing in the international rankings.

Three Turkish higher learning institutions placed among the top 10 in the BRICS & Emerging Economies Rankings, published Wednesday by the London-based magazine Times Higher Education.

Read more at Al-Fanar Media

Egyptian university: Presidents consider more outreach

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LUXOR, Egypt—“Why not develop a national campaign about learning in Egypt?” asked Lisa Anderson, president of the American University in Cairo.

She posed the question to a room of Egyptian university presidents who gathered in Luxor in mid-November to discuss ways to strengthen domestic university ties, enhance student connections and connect Egyptian universities with employers.

Read more at Al-Fanar Media

Explosions rattle: Egypt amid calls for Islamic uprising

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CAIRO — Explosions rattled across Egypt on Friday, and security forces arrested more than 100 amid protests calling for an Islamic uprising.

Authorities remained on high alert as demonstrators responded to calls by Islamist groups the Salafist Front and the Muslim Brotherhood to take to the streets to defend their religion and denounce Egyptian leaders.

Read more at USA Today

Arab students: Find a home in Turkey

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_TUR130326AA001.jpegCAIRO—In a sprawling conference room at the back of a five-star hotel, Egyptians gathered this week to learn about studying in Turkey.

While at the study abroad fair, Egyptian student Mohamed Hassan grew frustrated with his failure to communicate smoothly in a language he has studied in Egypt for almost a decade. “My country taught us English for nine years, but I can’t speak English well,” he said.

Read more at Al Fanar Media

Zealots take: Pakistan's blasphemy law into own hands

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_PAK130912aa001.jpegLAHORE, Pakistan — This month, thousands of Muslims armed with hatchets, axes, sticks and clubs beat a Christian couple, tied them to a tractor, dragged them over a road covered in crushed stones, soaked their bodies in gasoline and burned them in a kiln.

The torture and deaths of Shahzad Masih, 32, and his pregnant wife, Shama, 28, in the small village of Chak 59 were sparked by accusations they desecrated the Quran. The brutal killings highlight how Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws are a formidable tool in the hands of religious zealots.

Read more at USA Today

Islamic State’s: Plan for universities

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What is the Islamic State’s vision for universities? The residents of Mosul, Iraq are finding out.

Closed since the Islamic State’s blitzkrieg takeover of much of northern Iraq and Syria this summer, the University of Mosul is supposed to open again on November 25.

Read more at Al-Fanar Media

Egypt faces: New, harsher kind of repression

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CAIRO — Nearly four years after ousting one dictator, Egyptians may be facing an even more oppressive regime.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former army chief, is bringing military-like precision to target dissent by tightening control of the media and issuing a decree that could further obstruct justice in the nation.

Read more at USA Today

Their voices: Clinging to normalcy in violence-torn Jerusalem

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JERUSALEM – Tuesday, two Palestinian men armed with meat cleavers and guns stormed into a synagogue full of worshipers. Within minutes, four people – three American-Israeli rabbis and a British-Israeli rabbi – were dead, and 24 children were orphaned.

A Druze policeman died later that day.

Read more at USA Today

A conversation: With an advocate for academic freedom

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ISTANBUL—A road that snakes through hillside towns in northern Istanbul leads to one of Turkey’s most exclusive higher learning institutions: Koç University.

There, the university’s president, Umran Inan, governs with a hands-off approach from his office overlooking a campus courtyard on the edge of the Bosporus. The fans of his style say that it should serve as an example for the region.

Read more at Al-Fanar Media

3 American rabbis: Among 5 dead in Jerusalem attack

ISR TempleMount5JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to "respond harshly" after five people — three of them U.S.-born rabbis — were killed in a synagogue Tuesday by two Palestinians wielding meat cleavers, an ax and a gun.

The incident was the latest violent event in the tense city where relations between Arabs and Jews have been deteriorating for weeks over a contested shrine holy to both Jews and Muslims.

Read More at USA Today

Stabbing attacks: In Israel, West Bank; 2 dead

ISR Tel Aviv stabbingJERUSALEM — Israel vowed to crack down on violence and rioting Monday after an Israeli woman was stabbed to death at a West Bank bus stop, just hours after an Israeli soldier was stabbed and killed at a Tel Aviv train station.

The stabbings by Palestinian assailants were the latest in a spate of attacks and rioting in Israel during the past few months. In recent weeks, two Arabs from East Jerusalem rammed their cars into pedestrians, killing three people and injuring more than a dozen others.

Read More at USA Today

Stabbing attacks: In Israel, West Bank; 2 dead (2)

ISR Tel Aviv stabbingJERUSALEM — Israel vowed to crack down on violence and rioting Monday after an Israeli woman was stabbed to death at a West Bank bus stop, just hours after an Israeli soldier was stabbed and killed at a Tel Aviv train station.

The stabbings by Palestinian assailants were the latest in a spate of attacks and rioting in Israel during the past few months. In recent weeks, two Arabs from East Jerusalem rammed their cars into pedestrians, killing three people and injuring more than a dozen others.

Read More at USA Today

Franz Kafka: Meet the Islamic State

IRQ143110AA001Iraqi university students living in Islamic-State controlled areas are finding themselves in an Arabic version of a Kafka tale, with a war-zone atmosphere and plot twists centered on checkpoints. But for the students, their arduous journeys to get their diplomas are all too real.

The students living in places such as Mosul want to complete their degrees and need to take Iraq government examinations to get them.

Read More at Al-Fanar Media

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