Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Students of Basra and Scotland

I frequently receive e-mails asking about University of Basra students who were beaten by Al-Sadr gangs during a picnic last March. Well, I have some good news for you reported by The Scotsman on May 14th:

There were sit-ins and demonstrations by the students, who appeared to have the support of the majority of the population. The men from the Office of the Martyr Sadr [Muqtadr’s father] found themselves on the defensive. But perhaps the oddest by-product of the events of that day may be the link they spawned between the students of Basra and Scotland.

Two months on, Hassan Sabah, one of the 45 or so students who was in the Basra park is standing in the middle of a Tesco store in St Andrews, helping to unload the overburdened trolley on to the conveyor belt at the till.

Strawberries, tiger prawns, asparagus and hollandaise sauce, oatcakes, oven chips, tiramisu, pizza, lasagna, bread, tarte au chocolat... They are planning to have another picnic, this time with some of the students from St Andrews.

Pat, the woman working the till, is watching the little group. "And you’re all from Iraq?" she asks them, looking a little bemused. She rings through a jar of pickled onions and three haggis, selected by Karen McLuskie, who works for the Foreign Office in Basra and whose idea the trip was. A former St Andrews student, she decided to take a group of students to her old university and to Edinburgh to give them an insight into a different way of doing things.
Aghast at what had happened in the park, she put together a programme aimed at helping the students create a new student union which could stand up better to such intolerance. Staff from the British consulate in Basra made discreet inquiries around the university to establish who carried most clout, then selected ten people for the trip. At the last minute, the three women selected pulled out under pressure from their parents, but they pressed ahead with the trip with the remaining seven.


Thank you to Karen McLuskie for trying to heal the emotional scars of those Basrawi students and for teaching them how to fight peacefully for their rights.

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