Sunday, September 10, 2017

My Moment!

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 hoping to get their law degrees.

 The first class 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 in law.”

I didn’t join the nursing school. I earned my degree in law, and I graduated in 1991 with the second highest GPA across the Law School.

Earlier this year, Iraq was kicked out of Kuwait during the Operation Desert Storm. Yet, contrary to the widespread belief at the time, 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. Preparing for the finals in the middle for the summer in our desert climate was challenging enough. Let alone to do it without a fan or light.

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.

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.

Only 12 students out 500 graduated from the first attempt that year, and I was among them.

As you can see, I completed my studies when Saddam’s regime was in power. 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.

The three top graduates were to receive gifts from the President at the time, i.e., from Saddam Hussein.
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. Yet, I took the risk.

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. Yet, it was a moment of relief; a moment when 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, not passing the oppression onto someone else, 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 will and freedom. Every day people were stripped of their choices and voices. Everyday people were told how to think and feel. 

These special moments of freedom, as rare as they were, they quenched the thirst to experience freedom and equality.

These moments carried me through to becoming an attorney and an advocate for women and the environment; causes that very few cared about.

I owned my graduation. The moment was mine. 


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