Imagine you live half of your life under a brutal dictator, live through four major wars, several regimes, and a civil war. This is the reality for Amjed Kadhim Al-Rickaby.
Al-Rickaby is from the Babylon province of Iraq, in central Iraq, south of Baghdad, Babylon.
Al-Rickaby who is 28, and came to Sam Houston State University as part of the foreign language teaching assistant program (FLTA). Al-Rickaby’s first language is Arabic, which he teaches at SHSU, but is also a fluent English speaker.
Although Al-Rickaby grew up in old schools without modern technology or teaching practices, he was able to attend the University of Babylon.
Al-Rickaby was just a small child during the Gulf War in the early ‘90’s.
“I was brought up under the effect of wars and political problems such as, the Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf war, the economic embargo imposed on Iraq in the 1990s, and terrorism by Al-Qaeda and ISIS,” Al- Rickaby said. “Living in an oppressed and exhausted society and feeling the suffering of people has given me the motivation to do something for this world.”
With the influence of his traumatic past, Al- Rickaby aspires to change the world and open people’s eyes around him to what is going on.
“I see crazy things happening in the world today,” Al- Rickaby said. “These cannot be tolerated at all. Day after day I see the need to stand firm against the forces of evil and darkness. Remember that while you enjoy your time in this part of the world, there is another human dying because of war or hunger or disease.”
In 2014, Iraq saw a regime change when the Islamic State rose to power. ISIS was founded as Al-Qaeda in Iraq by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2003. He was killed by US forces but his brutal ideology continues to plague Iraq and Syria.
According to Al-Rickaby, his homeland has transformed dramatically in the last two years.
“Everything in Iraq has changed since ISIS rose to power,” he said. “Four Iraqi provinces were abandoned and millions were displaced into refugee camps.”
Al-Rickaby is required to pay a portion of his salary to the Iraqi government in order to offset the costs of war. With no functioning central government, Al-Rickaby lost his Doctoral scholarship.
There are many misconceptions people have about Iraq according to Al-Rickaby.
“Iraq is considered by the media as racist, bigoted, and backwards,” he said. “There is truth in this, but most Iraqis are peaceful and reject sectarianism and racism. There is much tolerance and love within the Iraqi people, but the politicians are a poor representation of the Iraqi people as a whole.”
The aspirations Al-Rickaby for his nation are to have a world free of bigotry and ignorance.
“I look forward to a world free of wars, diseases and terrorism,” he said. “I’m looking forward to a world that spends money on health and education rather than arms and armies.”
While in the US, Al- Rickaby wants to get the message of unity clear across the different countries in the world.
“I want people to know that I am here for peace and dialogue between cultures and languages,” he said.
In order to travel to the US, Al-Rickaby had to beat out 5,000 people in order to be nominated into his program. The hardest part for Al-Rickaby in transitioning to the US was overcoming bigotry and stereotypes rampant in this nation.
“Coming to the US was not easy for me,” Al- Rickaby said.
Al-Rickaby also did not receive much support for coming to the US and teaching at an American university. Many in Iraq blame the US for the current situation in Iraq, and this idea is not unfounded.
Al-Rickaby was fired from his job for coming to the US, and assumes he will experience more issues in the future.
This does not matter to Al-Rickaby though, because he came here to challenge stereotypes.
“My mission is to teach people that through dialogue, peace and education we can rid the world of problems,” said Al-Rickaby.
Although some in Iraqis oppose the US, Al-Rickaby thinks America is a great country.
“USA is a great country,” said Al-Rickaby. “I feel that America should be an example to the rest of the world. People here enjoy an excellent health system and a perfect educational system. US universities are the best in the world. What impressed me most here in the states is freedom and democracy. I also like the American people. They are educated, friendly and very generous.”
Al-Rickaby does not plan to stay in the US, but get his PHD scholarship back and make a difference in his country.
The main message that Al-Rickaby wants to get across with his work is that US, Iraq, and the world must unite and show future generations the great power of peace.
“We must understand each other,” he said. “How can we find real solutions to the problems plaguing the world today without having to understand each other and love each other? We must teach future generations how to maintain dialogue. We should stop accusing each other and portray the world as consisting of two fronts, Eastern and Western.”
To Al- Rickaby, this point will be clear when the world realizes that we are all more alike than we are different. These differences are what can bring us together, not tear us apart.
“There is one human race only,” Al- Rickaby said. “Yes, we have different colors, religions, languages, opinions, etc. but this difference is a source of strength. Through these differences we complete each other, we’re like the colorful painting, which cannot be complete without the presence of all colors.”