Jun 17, 2006

Last Rights

We went to M's for dinner. Just in the door, he pulled me aside. "Bad news," he said. He'd just gotten word from his family in Baghdad. They live in the mixed, well to do neighborhood of Mansour. They had received a threatening note. Apparently, someone had jumped over the wall and left it in their garden. When, was not clear, but in the last day or so. The writing was elementary, barely legible. Perhaps, it was a child, I said. "Maybe a fight in school. Maybe, it's not what you think."

"That's what I thought," said M, "a child from school." But then he shook his head. "It doesn't matter. We can't take a chance."

The note said the family needed to leave their house within 24 hours or one by one they would be 'destroyed.' After two generations in the house they had a few hours to leave. His brother who lives in the house, is an engineer who owns a small shoe factory. Maybe a grudge, I thought. Maybe it's not Shiites.

"It doesn't matter," he said.

What will become of the house, I asked.

"They will take it, like they take everything else. You see, they are after us," he went on. He lives in a famous family, there are hundreds of members. Now he has to get them out. "I told you the whole country is a mess. It's not going to change. This is the end of it."


We had dinner and M fell into a conversation about the university, about how badly they've treated him, how they never honored the three books he's written, the numerous articles over the last five years. He recounted how badly mismanaged the place is, how no one could call the city to get snowplows because that call needed to come from the president and no wanted to call the president. So there were no snowplows to clear the roads and few professors could get to class.

He told about how the university hired "friends" to accompany the prince when he left class. Three students, one from each social class. The prince graduated last year. I saw him a few times, a weird smiley kid in an oversized Audi. He looked like a joker, like a playboy, like someone who had been spoiled as a child.

M also told disturbiing stories about how the university had spied on him and run a policy of splitting and dividing split the faculty.

He told me about other scandals in the administration, how glad they were to be getting out. How even had the university offered better terms they would never have stayed indefinitly.

"I told you, Mark", he said. "We are 500 years behind here. It's a mess."

I asked if he would recommend faculty come to the university. "No, not Americans and certainly not Moroccans. They treat them very badly. Did you know that? It's embarassing what they do." He added, "It's a 'meanwhile place'. It would be alright if you are single and looking for a place to be for a year or two but no longer...."

What if you are a student?

"If you are serious you are not going to be here... This is for rich kids who want the appearance of an education. Nothing more"

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