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SAR Scholars’ Stories

Scholars at Risk is an international network of higher education institutions that saves lives by working with its members to provide sanctuary to professors, lecturers, researchers and other intellectuals who suffer threats in their home country. By identifying temporary positions of academic refuge, the network provides scholars with time and resources to continue their academic careers in a safe environment. While returning to the home country is the definite objective, some scholars may be unable to return home due to continuing threats, and as a result, may seek to establish themselves as academics abroad, while some may choose to return to the home region, working to enact change. SAR introduces Abdul Sattar Jawad, and Anna Dolidze, scholar sin a series featuring the most inspirational scholars who have actualized the SAR mission.

Abdul Sattar Jawad

In the early hours of a summer morning in 2005, with the help of a driver who knew which roads to avoid, Professor Sattar Jawad fled Iraq for Jordan, leaving even his family behind. A university dean and English professor who also served as Secretary General of the Iraq Writers’ Union and as Editor of the English-language daily Baghdad Mirror, he had no choice.  He survived death threats and his office being bombed by insurgents, but with the threats increasing, it was time to go.

Sattar contacted Scholars at Risk from Jordan in the fall of 2005, beginning his personal and academic journey to the United States.  Scholars at Risk helped arrange a two-year visiting scholar position at network-member Duke University, generously supported in part by the Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund.  Although temporary, the position gave him a chance to restart his life, free of the chaos and violence that engulfed Baghdad.  When the funding ran out Sattar with help from Scholars at Risk moved on, first as a visiting scholar in the Department of English at network-member Harvard University and, later, as a visiting professor at University of Mississippi, where he taught undergraduate and honors courses in English and Journalism.  An expert on Shakespeare and T. S. Eliot, Sattar used these years to share widely both his passion for literature and his perspective on the Iraqi situation, guest lecturing at universities across the country, presenting papers and talks at conferences like Modern Language Association’s annual conference, and writing articles and op-eds including in the Washington Post.  


In early 2009, Sattar was looking for what was next.  Duke had always wanted him back, and just then Duke’s SAR representative called Sattar with good news:  They had found a way to make it happen.  Sattar was thrilled to return to the place that first welcomed him after he fled Iraq, and to be part of an interdisciplinary group of colleagues in Middle East Studies, Journalism, English, Islamic Studies and Communications to found a new joint center for the study of the Middle East at Duke and its neighbor, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  Just as important, he would finally be able to be reunited with his family.

Scholars at Risk is pleased to have played a part in Sattar’s journey.  Thanks to so many who have helped along the way, and most of all to his courage and dedication to free and reasoned inquiry and expression, Sattar remains an inspiring, productive scholar contributing to his field and to greater understanding between his home in the Middle East and his adopted home abroad.

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