My Moment!

Earning a Law Degree in Iraq

It was September 1987, when I joined the Law School at the University of Baghdad. I was among the 10 women out of the 500 students who sat in the front row of the class hoping to get their law degrees.

 The first hour was in criminology. The professor entered the class, looked around and said;
“What are the women doing here? Go now and join the nursing school where you belong.You will never make it into building a career in law.”

The society in Baghdad praised itself to be civilized towards women, yet in reality, women were viewed as second-class citizens. Society accepted women as nurses, not as attorneys.

I didn’t join the nursing school. Becoming a nurse was not my passion.  I continued my studies at the Law School. I worked hard to analyze and argue. I didn't hesitate to share my opinion even the criminology class. The professor penalized me for it and gave me a relatively low grade, even though I was the only student who cited outside resources i.e. other than his book.

I earned my degree in law, and I graduated in 1991 with the second highest GPA across the Law School. The first was earned by a male colleague.

After the Storm

In March of 1991, Iraq was kicked out of Kuwait during the Operation Desert Storm. Yet, contrary to the widespread belief among the Iraqis, the Storm didn’t topple the regime. It did, however, destroy electricity and water plants.

 I prepared for the final exams studying on a kerosene lamp, like the ones used before the invention of electricity. Studying for the finals, without an air conditioner in the mist of the blazing heat of Baghdad was extremely challenging. I used to feel that my brain was melting for the heat and my eyes were burning from all the smoke coming from the lamp.

The finals were driven from the last page of a book that was mentioned once during the class. Other questions were about discussing the legal aspects of the professor personal opinion on what constituted an invasion.
The regime oppressed the professors to come up with a legal justification for the war and the invasion. They channeled that oppression onto the students, who couldn’t do anything but to take it in.
Only 12 students out 500 graduated from the first attempt that year, and I was among them.

With Honors!
The Reward

I completed my legal studies when Saddam was in power. Any hope that I had for upholding human rights or fighting for justice seemed impossible with a ruthless dictator intervening in the justice system. Yet, I graduated with honors. Not only because of my high GPA that I maintained, but also for a personal reason; I didn’t join the Ba’ath party, which was almost mandatory.
Since Saddam made the justice system one of his priorities, he became invested in the education of young attorneys. The top three graduates were to receive gifts from Saddam during the graduation ceremony.
I decided that I didn't want such a gift. Thus, I wouldn't attend the big graduation ceremony hosted at the main building of the university.
I didn’t feel that shaking the hands of the head of the oppressive regime, would be the moment to honor my graduation.  I was concerned that I would be questioned later. I took the risk though.

 Small Moments
Not attending was a moment of relief. To me, it meant that I didn't bow to the regime. Perhaps, it was a small moment that went unnoticeable by the huge crowd who attended the graduation that evening. I felt like I stood up to the oppressor and said, "No, that is my moment, and I won't spend it with you."

These small moments of relief; not switching majors, passing tests, maintaining a high GPA, and refusing to shake the hands of the oppressor, were all that someone could hope for living in such environment.I was blessed to enjoy few of these moments. Not many people did.

Every day, the regime's long hands reached-out and smashed people’s hope of freedom. Every day people were stripped of their choices and voices. Everyday people were told how to think and feel. 

These small moments of freedom, as rare as they were, they quenched the thirst to taste freedom and imagine how it would have felt to have it on a larger scale.

Personally, these moments carried me through to becoming an attorney and an advocate for women and the environment. To represent cases and causes that very few cared about. 



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