Culture

Iraq: Students look to the future as Mosul University moves on past ISIS

Iraq

Almost two years after the defeat of ISIS, young people have been leading the charge to rebuild and restore Mosul University to its former stature.

Walking to his literature class, Mohanned al-Hijiyat surveys the damage that still marks his campus at Mosul University.

“There are eight colleges that were completely destroyed,” said Mohanned, talking to Al Shahid. “Buildings have been flattened but there has been no reconstruction. All that has been done is painting and minor additions here and there”.

After over 18 months since the liberation of Mosul from ISIS, life has gradually returned to the once famed Mosul University. Many students have already fallen back into a routine after a three-year hiatus and are now tirelessly trying to make up for lost time.

However, the scars of the years-long ISIS occupation still remain etched onto campus life. Many buildings remain damaged and students complain that reconstruction has been too slow, blaming a mixture of political impotency, a lack of support, and the sheer impact left behind by ISIS.

“It’s a different atmosphere,” continues Mohanned. “A lot of students were affected because their lives were completely changed for three years and their studies were halted”.

Following ISIS’ takeover of Mosul, militants changed curriculums, banning subjects such as literature and arts, and replaced them with teachings that centred around religious indoctrination based upon a twisted interpretation of Islam.

Militants also plundered the university’s cultural and literary artefacts, looting 8,000 books and 100,000 manuscripts. When the Iraqi forces entered Mosul, militants began to burn down the main library, destroying precious books such a Quran from the 9th century and other old volumes of philosophy, literature and law, not only targeting Mosul’s history and heritage, but its diversity of ideas.

Even the university’s chemistry labs were not spared, transformed into chemical weapons sites that produced poisonous gases such as sulphur mustard to use against the ensuing Iraqi forces.

When the militants were defeated in Mosul in July 2017, students, teachers and local volunteers who returned to the campus were among the first to undertake rebuilding work. Despite the danger of mines, they initially helped restore the university to some form of working condition.

However, a lack of support from authorities has led to civil society groups – and young people especially – coming together as a community and rebuilding their heritage.

While there is further support from the UN, and book donations from Egypt, the UK, and other establishments within Iraq such as the University of Kufa, institutional impotency has stymied the speed of reconstruction, leaving students worried about their futures.

“We’re worried about the future because we’re worried about mismanagement and corruption,” said Jameel al-Helou, another student and a young activist in Mosul.

Despite the incapacity and detachment of people at the top, young people such as Jameel are among the countless students that are trying to keep the life of the university going. His actions represent a series of city-wide initiatives that aim to foster a sense of unity and re-stitch the social fabric in Mosul.

In November, the city’s first music festival took place, featuring musicians from a variety of ethno-religious groups, including Yazidis, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Shabaks.

Earlier this month, young people organised a reading festival, in which 10,000 books were collected for distribution to primary and secondary schools following the return of children to class.

Following this, people from Mosul came together to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the country’s liberation from ISIS. Taking to the streets, locals waved Iraqi flags and decorated the Old City’s windy avenues in celebration of ‘Victory Day’.

While reconstruction in Mosul University remains slow, it is important to note the work undertaken by young people to restore their future, their university and their city, acting as the driving force behind its resurgence. “As young people,” says Jameel, “we are doing everything in our power to take control of things and improve the situation in Mosul”.