Mosul: Memory, Questions and Hope

Hussain Shaban
2024 / 3 / 10

“We need a vivid imagination to visualize the horrors that things impose upon us”, that is what the French critic Gerard Genette wrote, and it is what I used to repeat to myself, and recall it throughout the days I spent in Mosul, especially when I saw the manifestations of devastation and destruction left behind by ISIS after its occupation of the city (2014 - 2017), where I listened to narratives and stories that were closer to fantasy.
What struck me most was the issue of education, for which the ancient University of Mosul, which was found in 1967, devoted a huge international conference on the occasion of the World Day for the Prevention of Violent Extremism (February 12) in cooperation with the UNESCO Chair, the Francophone University Agency, and the promising young Al-Nour University, which I visited too, and I saw its progress after its reconstruction.
In that bright, beautiful Mosul morning, I asked the pivotal question: Why did ISIS target education in particular? It is a question that separates civilization from brutality, between obscurantism and enlightenment. How can someone who wants to “build a state” destroy academic, cultural and historical monuments? Didn’t the great Messenger say, “Seek knowledge, even in China,” and wasn’t it what was stated in the Holy Qur’an, “And say, ‘My Lord, increase me in knowledge’”? So how could he destroy 83% of the buildings of the University of Mosul and dismantle its laboratory equipment?
He seized 300 vehicles, means of transportation, and cars, and executed 5 million books, publications, and manu-script-s, in an attempt to change people’s thoughts. Was Hulagu, who burned a quarter of a million books and manu-script-s, able to change people’s thoughts and convictions? Was the “Holocaust of books” carried out by Hitler in Germany and Austria able to destroy minds and distort ideas,´-or-did that generate the opposite?
ISIS was not able, through coaxing´-or-intimidation, to seize minds´-or-win over hearts. Rather, with its terrorist actions, it turned the discontent with the discrimination and attempts at subjugation from which the people of Mosul were suffering, into a reaction against it, and so gradually, it did not find an incubating´-or-willing environment to generate his ideas. The Mosulites, who have been victims of time s injustice, did not acquiesce´-or-surrender, but rather organized a cultural resistance against ISIS and its terrorist methods with patience, persistence, defense and abstention, and by all means they confronted attempts to contain´-or-coerce them, and for that they paid heavy prices.
As soon as the violent storm ended, the people of Mosul rolled up their sleeves to rebuild their city with love, affinity and cooperation, and tried to internationalize their cause to preserve the heritage and cultural legacy of their city, as Professor Tariq Al-Qassar, head of the Department of Political Science, told me, where UNESCO as well had a role in that, which is what the professor Qabas Hassan, -dir-ector of the UNESCO Chair at the University of Mosul pointed out, and civil society participated actively in this too, especially the initiations of some young people, which is what I noticed from the rebuilding of the “Baytuna Foundation for Culture” hall.
According to the university’s president, Professor Qusay Kamal al-Din, the university has regained its health, and it includes, now, 24 colleges, 142 departments, and 7 specialized research centers, including the “Center for Peace and Peaceful Coexistence,” and has received aids from a number of countries, such as Germany, France, the Netherlands, Italy, and the UAE. The United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, in addition to the British Museum, and others.
General Charles de Gaulle, as he advanced with his army to liberate France from Nazi occupation, asked: What about universities? He was told that the Sorbonne University discusses doctoral and master’s theses in the basements, and students receive their lectures and lessons in an atmosphere of secrecy and confidentiality. Here, de Gaulle commented that day: So, France is fine as long as the universities are fine.
This is what Mosul did in its resistance to ISIS. Study at the university did not stop, but students’ exams were completed in alternative areas, outside ISIS control, and at the beginning of 2018, life was -restore-d to it, as the entire city was in a continuous collective workshop, and the destroyed buildings and libraries were rebuilt and -restore-d and laboratories were equipped, and with the beginning of the academic year (2023-2024), the number of students at the University of Mosul alone reached about 60 thousand students.
And as much sadness, memory, and questioning as there is in Mosul, the humpbacked “Umm al-Rabee’in,” (the mother of two springs), why did all this happen? How did it happen? Who is responsible? But what is important then is that there is hope, will, and determination to rebuild, succeed, and excel, which is what I noticed in the academic, intellectual, and cultural elite, which is overflowing with creativity, beauty, and knowledge.
Everything in Mosul indicates that you are facing a great city. There stands the statue of Abu Tammam, and here you remember Abu Firas Al-Hamdani and his favorite saying:
I say, while a dove wailed near me / Hey neighbor, can you feel my condition?
On the other side, it recalls Ishaq al-Mawsili and his student Ziryab, who added a fifth string to the oud instrument. He was the master of the art of etiquette and the first to introduce the game of chess to Europe.
Human history is also present with all its weight, from the civilizations of the Akkadians to the Assyrians, all the way to the figures of Mosul and the pioneers of contemporary Iraqi culture, some of whom are friends, while recalling the economic, social, military and educational role of the city of Mosul, which knows diversity and national, religious, social and cultural coexistence.
If victory over ISIS, militarily, has occurred, then there are fronts that need to be strengthened and consolidated, such as the economic, social, cultural, legal, judicial, media, civil, security, intelligence and religious fronts, in order to complement the educational and pedagogical front, to provide educational security in particular and human security in general, and this is one of outcomes of the Mosul Conference and the UNESCO Chair.

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