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I Was a Professor at the Horribly Corrupt American University of Iraq... Until the Neocons Fired Me

Horror stories from the graft-ridden American University of Iraq campus in Kurdistan.

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I soon learned that the rules were different at AUIS. My first slap in the face came in Jordan, hours after we newcomers had flown in to begin the academic year. At an outdoor buffet at the hotel there, AUIS’s Personnel Director, Lara Dizeyee, told us, “If you’re Jewish-- keep it to yourself.” I waited for the sky to fall; you don’t talk that way. I thought it was illegal to say things like that. But no one said a thing. The people who ran AUIS anticipated and enjoyed this cowardice; they clearly enjoyed frightening the faculty.  Every time something happened, Joshua Mitchell, our “acting chancellor,” would announce a meeting, and we’d file in -- middle-aged men and women with fancy academic titles, all hunched over and shuffling like eighth-graders. Mitchell would take a seat front and center, never looking at us; then, after a gravitas-gathering pause, address us in a petulant whine.

After a few of these meetings, we realized that Mitchell’s speeches always had the same thesis: something had gone wrong again and, as always, it was the faculty’s fault.

The first crisis was the most dramatic: one of the ESL teachers was raped by two local men who’d offered her a ride. We only learned about this through the grapevine;  no word came from the main building for several days, at which time Mitchell called a meeting to discuss “the incident” -- he would only refer to it that way. The meeting was our introduction to the Mitchell crisis mode: a long, pompous oration designed to buffer the unwelcome news. When he finished, we knew no more about “the incident” than we had before -- but we knew that whatever horrible thing had happened, it was our fault.

That vague blame wasn’t good enough for the Dean of Student Affairs, Denise Natali. She stood up and began shrieking at us that “the incident” was all our fault -- specifically the fault of the American women on the faculty. In this case, it was…sleeveless blouses! That was what had caused the rape! Natali, always excitable, couldn’t seem to stop repeating her accusation: “I see women walking around here in sleeveless t-shirts! Tank tops! What do you expect?”

Everyone looked around furtively, checking out their neighbors’ attire. But there were no tank tops, sleeveless t-shirts, or other beachwear in evidence. In fact, our female students dressed much more provocatively than women faculty. The rule in Suli seemed to be that as long as the skin is covered, anything goes, including skintight black leotards.

 Natali, not finding any wardrobe crimes, just repeated her accusation more loudly: we had brought it on ourselves!

I felt the same mental confusion as when the HR director told us to keep any Jewishness to ourselves. Had Natali actually said that it was the rape victim’s own fault, and that any other woman who dressed immodestly deserved to get the same treatment? I remember hesitating to believe what I was hearing. I grew up in Berkeley, where you assume the world would end if anyone said such things out loud. But she was saying them, repeating them in the same crazy shriek, and everybody was taking her very seriously, or pretending to.  

We didn’t get a saner version of "The Incident" until our Kurdish security director came for a follow-up talk a few weeks later. He showed up in what he took to be the American manner: informal, relaxed, the complete opposite of Mitchell and Natali. And when asked to explain the rape, he said simply, “Look, Kurdish young men do not handle their drink very well. I would say, if you want to be safe, just don’t go where young Kurdish men are drinking.”

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