I have been inactive for some time here on Savage Infidel. I spent the last six months in the Kurdish region of Iraq where I was working in a preparatory program at an English medium university, The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani. I obviously had to be careful about blogging from there.
I left Israel in October 2012 and I went to Iraq out of economic need and with a heavy heart. The pay was good as were the conditions. It would be temporary and I would be back in Israel soon. Little did I know how soon I would be back, driven out of town by censorship and bigotry.
I knew that living in a Muslim society would mean a certain amount of self-censorship. I would not be able to discuss Islam critically, as much as I would like to. I didn’t know, however, how deeply I would be censored by the administration of the University for being an American patriot and ultimately a Jewish Israeli.
Before classes began in the fall there were several social gathers for the faculty in which the alcohol flowed and people expressed their opinions on a variety of subjects including the war in Iraq.
I expressed my uncompromising view that the war in Iraq was a good thing and remains so. We were after all there teaching and making good money in an area made safe wholly due to America's efforts. The Americans who work there, however, show no appreciation for this basic fact. I felt no need, likewise, to hide my support for Israel in private social gathers that had nothing to do with what I was contracted to do there.
Even before starting to teach, I was brought to the office and talked to about a "rather serious matter" and given a dressing down by Rosalind Warfield-Brown, the director the Academic Preparatory Program, which in no way trains students for academics. She told me not to be "pro-American." In addition, I was too "jingoistic." Furthermore, my politics and patriotism were "alienating" the other American faculty. Be nice, smile and be quiet was the message I got. Talk about the weather.
I was naturally hurt, shocked and furious. I remained plagued with a sense of paranoia the entire semester. I, however, had little choice but to accept this absurd censorship and get on with my work there.
I tried to tell myself to stick it out, suck it up and rise above. I would make it until May and take the money and run after the academic year. That strategy worked until two weeks ago after returning from the semester break in France and Israel.
Precisely at the moment when I thought things would be okay and I would have a smooth semester, Rosalind told me not to wear a gold Star of David I had bought in Israel. I was also told to remove a map of Paris I had decorated my classroom with because there were Hebrew letters on it. A small poster of announcing a talk by Melanie Phillips likewise “had to be removed” from my wall.
I then quit. Censoring my political views was one thing, as contradictory as that concept is at a university. But asking someone to hide who they are, is quite another. There is nothing wrong with being Jewish and I was hurt and appalled by these demands.
Whether Rosalind in a rabid, anti-Semitic bigot is not clear. But I certainly experienced bigotry and singling out politically and religiously. Ironically, this bigotry was not coming from the Muslim staff or students but from the Americans who work there.
I returned to Israel the next day and, though I face an uncertain future, I am happy to be back.
One learns a lot about oneself being abroad. Freedom of speech, as Geert Wilders rightly points out, is our most precious freedom, from it all other freedoms spring. I believed that before I went to Iraq but it rings truer now that I am back in Israel and feel as if a cloak of iron has been lifted from me. The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani robs faculty and students of that freedom and does nothing to extend freedom and progress in Kurdistan.
The insults, character assassinations, censorship and bigotry that I experienced are nothing. I will be fine.
The real tragedy lies in the wasted lives of American soldiers who thought they were bringing freedom to Iraq only to have half-educated Americans censor freedom and spit on their graves.