Baghdad - The City of Peace No. 45

Welcome to the 45th edition of the Independent Skies Magazine:
  1. Loving a City I Don't Know Yet by Svea Freiberg
  2. From South to North And Back Again by Madison Melton
  3. Baghdad - The City of Peace by Zena Alhiti
  4. The Power of Journaling And How to Do It Effectively by Paul Lorho
  5. The Biggest Humanitarian Crisis Since WWII by Almustafa Mahmoud

Loving a City I Don't Know Yet

by Svea Freiberg

I grew up protected and safe in a town in Northern Germany. Eighteen years of my life I explored the world travelling with my parents’ hands never more than an arm length away. Finishing high school, as many others would, I felt an urge to leave. I guess it’s just this very human sense for adventure.

So I set out to study in Spain and later got convinced to spend my exchange semester in Hong Kong, probably the most instructive period of my life yet. But more than the living abroad experiences, my living among experiences, living among people from different places across the globe and touching their stories is what impacted me even more.

Living in Spain allowed me to learn many things about myself. Only once confronted with what is different from yourself, you gain awareness of these fundamental character traits and behaviors you built throughout childhood. One of the things I finally had to admit is that Germans complain a lot! Even though the German people are so fortunate to live in a country, where everyone has access to basic healthcare and jobless pay, there still seems to be enough room to complain. Here in Spain, I have not experienced anything close to the amount of complaining at home. What is more interesting though is how living in an international community, sensitizes you for the problems of this planet, and teaches empathy and understanding.

To my shame I have to admit that my entire universe was strongly centered around Europe. I hardly knew what was going on in any other continents, except maybe North America. And I think many people grow up like I did. We all have a ‘home base bias’. The kind of common thought, be it the one of our local, national, ethnic or any kind of community, that we are subject to for the majority of our lives, will strongly shape how we think and look at the world.

My centre of life eventually started to shift after months of studying abroad. Moving away from Germany at first, then expanding all over Europe and finally covering all places on this planet. I grew into a global citizen without having been to even 10% of earth’s countries.

One city that has not ceased to attract my yearning is Baghdad. This is for quite a personal relationship to someone who had to flee from there when the war erupted. Someone who ended up shaping my life and my view on this world decisively, showing me what more there is to the universe than what I used to know. Likewise, I was happy to give back just as much, sharing the perspective that I grew up with myself. When the two of us merged our cultural knowledges and richness, we did not only end up with the sum of two cultures but rather multiplied learning and understanding of all these facets of humanity.

When I first started to learn more about the city of Baghdad and its people, the culture and its way of life, I got hooked. Just through these everyday life stories being told to me. In a second thought, I felt pain. Even though I know not much about what it means to be living in a conflict torn region, I felt strong empathy and sympathy for people that I have never met.

I cannot really tell where this honest and deep fascination came from and after all it matters very little. What matters in turn is that through all these little pieces of impressions that were shared with me from such a personal perspective, I managed to overcome part of my own ‘home base bias’. My new ‘lenses’ let me sense the very human experiences that we all share. No matter the religion, education or citizenship.

Even though I am a keen believer in the fact that it is impossible to concern oneself with all the world’s suffering at all times, I now believe that in order to counter world’s most pressing issues, it is more important that we all have a level of awareness and understanding of it. And by understanding I mean more than reading an analytical piece of news but rather exploring real people’s opinions. After all, we neither feel empathy nor love for a written word but the human that may stand behind a story.

Now, I miss the people of Baghdad, that I do not even know yet, just as much as my German community.

From South to North And Back Again

by Madison Melton

According to a recent study, 5 million students travelled to another country to pursue higher education in 2014, with a projected 8 million students studying internationally by 2025. The most popular destinations at present are the USA, the UK, Germany, France, and Australia, with Canada also gaining ground in recent years. Of these students, more than half come from Asia, and many of the rest of are also transcontinental students from other non-western countries. Of course, many students also study regionally. At my own school, Rhodes University in South Africa, the bulk of international students come from neighbouring countries like Zimbabwe and Botswana. However, much research suggests that students who travel across continents for their studies tend to follow a unidirectional trend and settle at colleges and universities in western countries in the global north. Travel either between regions in the global south or from global north to south is still relatively rare. Many students from schools in these western countries travel to Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and South and Central America for summer programmes, service trips, and exchange semesters, but very few enrol as full-time students.

From one perspective this seems self-evident. Following centuries of colonisation that decimated independent school systems and universities across the world and the promulgation of a ‘west is best’ philosophy that still echoes loudly today, it is universities in Western countries that are still held in high regard as centres of knowledge production. It is no secret that a degree from a western country in the global north can open up tremendous job opportunities in students’ home countries, and for students from these western countries themselves there is often a practical and legitimate fear that qualifications from elsewhere won’t be recognised.

At the same time, the current obsession with western higher education also seems rather absurd. Tuition on these continents is usually higher than anywhere else in the world, and this is particularly true for international students. In Europe non-EU citizens are usually required to pay a hefty international surcharge, and in North America international students are much less likely to receive financial aid and scholarships, forced to foot a bill that has reached up to US$70,000 at the most expensive schools and is still climbing rapidly.

At the same time, many countries like China, are eager to recruit international students to form partnerships overseas, and generous scholarships are available. This often includes an additional year at the beginning of a students’ studies to focus solely on language acquisition before joining Chinese peers in a lecture theatre. Yet learning a foreign language other than English is not even a requirement in many places, where, similar to many European universities, many programmes are now offered in English in order to produce more internationally recognised research. Even in countries where international scholarships are more limited, university tuition and the cost of living often remains much lower than in many western universities, and even factoring in an international surcharge and annual flights, education can still be a fraction of the cost for those who have the resources to consider this luxury in the first place.

Yet the question remains, does a fraction of the cost mean a fraction of the quality? On TIME’s World University Rankings 2015-2016, only nine of the top one-hundred universities in the world were located outside of North America, Europe, and Australia, and all of these nine were located in some of the wealthiest Asian countries: Singapore, China, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Japan. However, rankings on their own are based on very specific criteria and are not always representative of the experience inside the classroom. I suspect a real answer about quality is that it varies wildly. Rhodes University in South Africa where I study does not even make the top 800 on TIME’s list. However, I spoke with a friend who studied here for a semester about his experiences. Although between the two of us we have attended three other more highly ranked universities in Europe and North America during our academic careers, we nonetheless agreed wholeheartedly that we had not worked so hard nor learned so much at any of these other schools than we did at Rhodes. This is hardly a representative anecdote, but I do believe that the playing field is far more complex than it is made out to be.

However, I want to suggest that there is an even further and more important reason than the financial to study at a university in a non-western country and/or a country in the global south. My education at Rhodes has taught me that there is an entire discourse in higher education spaces across the world rejecting a colonial understanding of non-western countries that is still widely perpetuated in the global north. This dialogue is not only discussing but actually reimagining the educational space and the possibilities for a more equitable global economy, and dialogue is one that I feel that much of ‘the west’ is largely unaware of, or at least has not fully integrated into its purview. The global south is where westerners traditionally go to teach, but in fact I think it is where people need to start going to learn.

Of course, I am operating under a tremendous number of assumptions here. The first is that despite being more affordable than western countries, almost any kind of overseas education is tremendously expensive and out of reach for the majority of the global population. A strong grasp of English or another language is also almost always a prerequisite, and as a native English speaker I am tremendously privileged that my mother tongue gives me access to such far-reaching opportunities. For students of Law, Medicine, and other degrees that have nationally specific qualifications, studying elsewhere can certainly limit future possibilities for students to work in their home country or some third party country that might be of interest and might simply not be feasible. Finally, after further reflection, I’m not sure if what I’m suggesting is part of the discourse of decolonising or in fact a strange sort of turn-around of the colonisation process.

To explain, an international presence is something that universities across the world are actively seeking, recognising the benefits of diverse global experiences on their campuses and the wonderful contributions this can lend to research and discussion. From a more long-term perspective, more international students also increases possibilities to expand influence in the global economy. However, in many places, South Africa included, there is also a large effort being made to devise curriculums and research that are precisely and intentionally moving away from western discourse. This is something I struggle with as a student from the United States in South Africa. On one hand, a more genuine global recognition of non-western universities and those in the global south is an essential component of decolonising, and I believe this would necessarily disrupt the present unidirectional flow of students and perceptions about sites of knowledge production, with more students staying in their own countries and regions by choice and a more equitable flow of students traveling abroad to study. However, on the other hand, people like me have been travelling to places like South Africa for centuries and there is now an opportunity for former colonies to reconstruct new possibilities without the input of those from my side of the world.

Where does this leave me?

I believe in international education. So much so that it is likely something I will dedicate my professional life to, and I believe strongly in not just expanding opportunities but disrupting present discourse about what kind of opportunities exist in what kind of places. If you have the available resources and are planning to study a degree that is without specific professional qualifications, remain open to all the possibilities. Research, find out which places are actively seeking international students and which places are more ambivalent. Consider this in a global, economic, and historical context. Get excited. Disrupt traditional flows of knowledge, but do it in a way that doesn’t simultaneously perpetuate them. Define your comfort zone and then refuse to stay inside it. Refuse to let others’ perceptions about what a ‘real’ university education looks like limit your scope of possibilities. Finally, and most critically, remember that no matter where you go you are there to learn.

Baghdad - The City of Peace

by Zena Alhiti

A lot of people- including many of my friends wonder where I am from. As a girl living abroad and additionally the only Iraqi student in my batch, I encounter a lot of curiosity and people asking me to tell them about my hometown.

It’s exciting to sit together for hours and recite the memories I can recall. Just sometimes it’s just not the right time and place to do so! So I’ll take this opportunity to share a few stories about my wonderful home town, Baghdad.

Sadly, the first thing comes to people’s mind when getting to know my origin town is war and this is really heartbreaking. Unfortunately, media has contributed and still is contributing to the misleading news about this so called hot news spot.

A little history- the name Baghdad is of Indo-European/ Persian origin meaning “God’s gift". The other name chosen by the Abbasids is the Madinat al-Salaam or City of Peace. Not getting into much detail for now as it needs a separate article to list what Iraq have contributed for the humankind! Perhaps a book.

One of the city’s icons is river of Tigris that divides the capital into two shores; the western half Al-Karkh and the eastern half Al-Rusafa, those being so close and distinct in their ideologies but I bet if you can distinguish between the two from their look, color or by dress. That’s how united and on one heart.

Now, if you lived in Baghdad, you might find driving to work in your 2015+ car somewhat strange. At one point, you'd be driving on a really nice road, with green trees and the beautiful Tigris on your side. Then, just minutes later, you would hit a crowded area–perhaps a crowded bazaar or a poor neighborhood where kids play soccer in the street, not minding the passing traffic. But most importantly, your journey isn't going to last long without hitting a checkpoint. Oh those checkpoints! A real day-to-day struggle.

Walking through the old city, you can see the elderly having a deep conversation at one corner and hear the laughter’s of young gentlemen playing Domino on the other corner, with sweet aroma of Arabian coffee all over the place. Where you can see their simple humble and welcoming reaction especially towards foreigners.

If had the chance I would sit near Abu Nawas Street on the east bank of the Tigris with the bestie eating Mazgouf (river fish) cooked over wood fires and drinking soft drinks- that would be a lovely talk.

Another famous icon of the city is Al Mutannabi Street is the historic center of Baghdad bookselling, a street filled with bookstores and outdoor book stalls. It was named after the 10th-century classical Iraqi poet Al-Mutanabbi. Today Al-Mutanabbi Street is the heart and soul of the Baghdad literacy and intellectual community. For those readers who love to be surrounded by dusty old books and read on road sides that would be a different experience.

Spanning ~79 square miles, Baghdad is too big and diverse to fit into one picture. And my little view about the city is surely incomplete. But I tried! And I have a huge hope in young generation- that one day they will rebuild and rise the city to the place where it should be.

The Power of Journaling And How to Do It Effectively

by Paul Lorho

Being a child, my father always reminded me of a simple and powerful quote from Michel Houellebecq:

“In life, everything can happen and mostly nothing.“

During my teenage years, a quote from Spiderman reinforced that idea, understanding that “With great power comes great responsibility”, no matter your conditions. Most of the people reading this issue, myself included, are part of the 1% of privileged people in this world and yet, a majority of us feel frustrated. We do not know our exact place in this society, our contribution to it and what will ignite our spark of purpose and uniqueness eventually.

In my humble opinion, journaling is one of the best way to become your own coach and to sort things out: finding out who you are, what is most important to you, how to improve and keep track of your progress until finally reaching your objectives. This article is intended to any person that strongly desires to grow and to get the most out of his/her potential in any aspect of life.

In brief, the main benefits of keeping a journal effectively are higher self-awareness and self confidence, a clear sense of purpose, better strategic thinking and improved self-regulation. Before going any deeper into journaling and how it will give you great insights to change, remember that “the opposite of success is not failing, it is quitting”. Also, always keep in mind that there is no shortcut to breakthroughs in your life and always trust your “gut feeling” that will indicate if you are on “your right path”.

Self Awareness

All start with self-awareness: The answer to who you are and where you are right now. For that, take a snapshot of your current situation in different areas of your life using the “wheel of life” generally composed of 8 domains which can be for example: Career, time management, physical well-being, management of emotions, psychological well-being, friends & colleagues, family relationships and your finances. You can change some of them for others that relate more to your life. Then, rate from 0 to 10 your satisfaction levels in each one of those parts. The goal of this exercise is to find out your current situation to highlight what needs to be improved to find the right balance. When done, look at you weak points or areas of potential improvements and find out why you are in that position and how you could make it better.

Your Values

Another important part of defining who you are as a person is to determine which are your core values. For that, a simple exercise would be to list 10 values you think you possess. Then, start reducing the number of values gradually until you reach only three core values that deeply define yourself. Values are important as they will guide you in life.

Your Vision

Secondly, to start changing, just as building a house, one shall start with the ending picture. Write down your vision, to know what your life will look like before starting anything. A vision can be set 3-5 years in your future enabling you to dream realistically and without your own limitations. Afterwards, you can come back to your wheel of life and determine which part of your life you would like to improve, what would be the ideal wheel for you and how that can be translated in your ideal life in the future. Your vision will act as a compass in your everyday life, make it compelling, easily imaginable, specific and realistic.

Your SMART Goals

Third and maybe the most important step of all, you have to develop SMART goals that will enable you to find out the path to reach your destination. These objectives will create the bridge between your vision and your current situation. Start your day every morning writing five things to achieve. They must be related with your middle and long term goals for that week, month, quarter and year. At the end of each day, write your personal feedback. How was the day, how many of those five goals did you achieve? What can be improved, what went very well and what can be done better? Every weekend, write a summary of what happened during the past week. How many days did you achieve your goals, how many of them per day? How many left you satisfied, or unsatisfied? That same day, write five strategic goals for the following week using the same format. Then, write down five goals for the current month, quarter and year. Make sure you create SMART objectives in accordance with your values and that you accept the cost to be paid to reach them over time. Review the goals as many times as necessary to create concrete milestones that will give you a better sense of direction to reach your vision. Keep in mind for your journal that the overall objective is quality over quantity, be short and precise. Also, be consistent in writing your journal everyday. According to Jim Rohn:

“Motivation is what gets you started. habit is what keeps you going”.

Creating a new habit takes only 3-7 minutes for 21-30 consecutive days. To do it effectively, follow the 3Rs’ rule: Develop a Reminder, a Routine and a Reward for journaling. Applying the same rule, write down the habits that will enable you to reach your middle-term goals and your long-term destination. Start small and increase the number of habits or the time spent doing them gradually. Remember that you cannot break bad habits, you can only replace them by constructive ones.

Your Mission

Whenever you feel ready for it, write down your mission. Don’t over think it, it may change along time. It is key to know that with a big enough reason you’ll achieve what you envision. So, understand, write down and review your answers to why you are here, what you stand for and what brings you joy and fulfillment in this life. Always remember that you need to be your best friend and support yourself instead of letting yourself down. You need to take full responsibility for your change by starting immediately, implementing the four guidance steps listed above. Keep in mind that as long as there is time, you can achieve your objectives. To end this article, one last important thing to be written in your journal everyday is a short list of the things that made you happy during your day. Being grateful for your life is a real key to happiness as Gilbert K. Chesterton once said:

“Gratitude produced the most purely joyful moments that have been known to man”.

The Biggest Humanitarian Crisis Since WWII

by Almustafa Mahmoud

Observing all the Trumps and Le Pens lead radical rightist movements in the west meanwhile witnessing unbelievable human rights violations in the middle east in countries such as Syria, Iraq and Israel, it is without a doubt that we are living both a complex and critical era. Crisis is all around us, but one issue stands out as the biggest humanitarian disaster; the number of refugees that are forcibly displaced from their homes. Homes that have turned into areas of breeding conflict and war. Refugees is a term we often hear and talk about. But, to better understand the exact meaning, here is what the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (better known as UNHCR):

“Refugees are people fleeing conflict or persecution. They are defined and protected in international law, and must not be expelled or returned to situations where their life and freedom are at risk.”

Today, there are 65.3 Million people who are displaced worldwide, 21.3 Million of those are considered refugees per definition of the United Nations. A little over 107,000 have been resettled by 2015 and more than 33,000 are still forced to flee their homes every day, the UNHCR reports. Having these numbers in mind, one would expect the world to be kind towards people who put their lives in such danger to cross seas, forests and countries searching for a safe haven. On the contrary, these people face many things but kindness in their everyday lives. As a matter of fact, their situation is worse off sometimes in developed countries than it is in the developing ones. Australia is one country that is known to catching asylum seekers at sea and holding them in detention in off-shore islands. An article written by Rebecca Hamilton for reports that:

“The allegations of crimes against humanity, including torture, deportation, persecution, and other inhumane acts, stem from Australia’s post-9/11 policy toward asylum-seekers known as the “Pacific Solution.” Under the Pacific Solution, the Australian government and its partners prevent anyone trying to enter Australian waters by boat, including anyone seeking asylum, from reaching the mainland. They do this by forcibly intercepting and transferring asylum seekers to one of Australia’s offshore immigration detention facilities on the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru, or on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.”

The above demonstrates a major issue in the refugee crisis, as Australia is given only to show one example of many. Torture and other inhumane methods have taken place in other countries such as Serbia, Greece and Hungary to prevent refugees from crossing borders. Furthermore, a ruling from The European Court of Justice was just released by its President Koen Lenaerts under the Article 2(2)(a) of council directive 2000/78 says:

“must be interpreted (Article 2(2)(a)) as meaning that prohibition on wearing an Islamic headscarf which arises from an internal rule of a private business imposing a ban on the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign in the workplace constitutes no direct discrimination on the basis of religion or belief in the sense of that directive.”

All these examples unfortunately show how refugees are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They are put in a position where they have to take a decision of whether to die with dignity in their homes (which many decide to do) or risk their lives, ride the sea at night, arrive to Europe only to receive a dignity-washing welcome. What we have mentioned so far is not even 50% of the story, yet the above claims do violate a few articles in United Nations Declarations of Human Rights Charter. Some of these are:

Article 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 7: All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination

Article 14: (1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

Article 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

This demonstration of facts and stories shows the suffering of many people, those who their only mistake was to be born into that situation. It is time we wake up and make sure our authorities treat these humans in a humane way and help them integrate into society rather than exclude them due to their religious background, race or nationality. We are in 2017 and many people who hold high governmental positions talk about how globalised our world is, and free movement comes with it, especially in such circumstances.

Finally, we need to be open minded and accept each other as who we are because that is the only way we can achieve world peace. So, let humanity unite us, not divide us.

Independent Skies Magazine No. 45


Created with images by D-Stanley - "Tigris River" • kaboompics - "journal notebook note" • Gervasio Varela - "Crisis" • DaveBleasdale - "blue"

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.