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Guest Opinion: Education, fear entwined in Iraq

It was a regular school day morning last year, when 20 buses carrying Christian university students left the northern Iraqi town of Kara Gush. The buses were traveling to the University of Mosul. I was on the fifth bus.

Halfway to the University of Mosul, a shopkeeper named Radeef Mahruk rushed into the road to try to stop the buses. It was too late. One bomb exploded near the buses, and then a few seconds later a second bomb erupted, killing Mahruk. Shrapnel embedded itself in my body. One of my classmates died. Another 144 students were injured.

Violence has become a reality for Christians in post-war Iraq. Not only do Christian students face attacks by Islamic radicals for their religious beliefs, but Christian families are in constant danger as well.

Before the American-led invasion in 2003, 1.4 million Christians lived in Iraq, a small minority in a country of 28 million people. Since then, about half of the Christian population has fled the country due to the violence, according to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Religious leaders like Pope Benedict XVI called on the Iraqi government to protect religious minorities, but those Christians who remain in Iraq live in fear of being kidnapped, raped, tortured or killed. Few of these crimes against religious minorities are solved, according to the U.N.

My family knows this firsthand. In 2007, Islamic terrorists kidnapped my father. My family borrowed money and exhausted our savings to pay the $20,000 ransom. Even though we paid the money, the terrorists killed my father two days later.

I have Muslim friends and I understand the difference between the devout practitioners of Islam and the dangerous ones. These attacks harm not just Christians but Muslims as well because there are so many different religious groups within Islam.

In 2011, about half of the Christian students at the University of Mosul had to postpone their school for one year. I decided to return to the university after the attacks. But two months later, after terrorists attacked Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad, we started receiving new threats and I was forced to stop going to the university. It became too dangerous.

The Ministry of Education and Scientific Research has suggested the Christian students study at home and only come to the university to take exams. We sent several representatives to Baghdad earlier this year to ask government leaders to build a university in our town so we don’t have to take the dangerous road to the University of Mosul every day. They agreed to open a new department of the university’s College of Education in Kara Gush only for freshmen. I am in my fourth and final year in college, so the new department won’t allow me to finish my education in my town. Next year I will transfer to another university located in a safer but, unfortunately, more remote location.

I think often of the attacks on the buses last year. I consider Radeef Mahruk, the shopkeeper, a modern-day martyr. He sacrificed his life to save many students. I hope that I – and students of all religions – can go to any Iraqi university without fear and finish our education.

Melad, a 24-year-old college student from Iraq, studied journalism at Washington State University’s Edward R. Murrow College of Communication this summer through a grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The writer’s last name has been withheld to protect his identity.
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