When most people write their PhD dissertations, they never imagine that their work might one day be seen as a catalyst for the Iraq War.
We met with visiting professor Ibrahim Al-Marashi, whose article about Iraq’s secret police ended up being plagiarized by the UK government. Read on to find out what he has to share about his experiences as one of IE University’s first-ever professors, his virtual Ted TALK at TEDexIE, and much more!
1. Tell us about yourself. Where are you from, and what do you teach at IE University?
As with many others at IE University, talking about my “origins” is like a National Geographic documentary. My mother is half Iraqi-Lebanese. My father was born in Zanzibar, but his father would have come from the Ottoman Empire, which is known today as Iraq. After the UK invaded the area during World War I, my grandfather joined the Iraqi revolt of 1920, launched by a growing number of citizens who were disillusioned by British control. He later had to flee the authorities, and ended up in Zanzibar.
My parents are both doctors. They were a part of the “brain drain” trend, when American visas were given out eagerly to professionals from the Muslim world in the 60s and 70s. As a result, I was born in the US. While growing up there, I was pressured to pursue professions or careers that carried prestige: medicine, engineering, or law. But I knew I was fascinated by history since high school. And no amount of pressure from my parents could force me to abandon that passion.
So, I studied Middle Eastern History at UCLA for my bachelor’s degree, and then I went to Georgetown for my master’s and to Oxford University for my doctorate. My first academic post was in Istanbul, where I thought I would live for the rest of my life, I loved it that much. I will discuss the reason I left in the second question.
After Istanbul, I moved to Madrid in 2008 and started working at IE University during its first year, when there were only 20 students! I worked there for three years, before moving back to the US. But Spain is where I consider “home”—I had the best three years of my life living there. I loved the language, the people, the culture, history, architecture, culture, and the fact that both Islamic and Sephardic influences have survived and are being revived. This is why I returned as a visiting professor in 2019.
2. As a speaker, what did you talk about in TEDxIE?
My TEDxIE Talk dealt with the trajectory of events that began with an article I had written, titled, “Iraq’s Security and Intelligence Network: A Guide and Analysis,” which was published in the September 2002 issue of the online journal, Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA).
In the lead up to the Iraq War, on January 30, 2003, the British government released a dossier, titled, “Iraq – Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation.” British Prime Minister Tony Blair had handed Colin Powell, US secretary of state, what he thought was a dossier based on original intelligence material.
On February 5, Powell delivered a presentation to the United Nations Security Council, citing the UK dossier in support of American evidence that Saddam Hussein maintained a network designed to conceal Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. He said, “I would call my colleagues’ attention to the fine paper that the United Kingdom distributed yesterday, which describes in exquisite detail Iraqi deception activities.”
On February 6, the following day, Channel 4 news in the UK revealed that entire sections of the British government dossier were copied from three published sources, with the bulk of the plagiarized material coming from the article I had written!
I was eventually called to the British parliament to testify that Tony Blair’s government plagiarized and manipulated my work. I was writing about Iraq’s secret police for my doctorate in Oxford, particularly their activities during the 1991 Gulf War, and the British government plagiarized that material. The British government then added more information about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction to their report. That part did not come from my article.
In 2004, when I moved to Turkey, the Turkish media created the impression that I wrote that article deliberately to convince the British and the US government to go to war against Iraq. The headline labeled me as “The Man Who Started the Iraq War.” What happened after that? Well, you have to watch the TEDxIE Madrid Talk!
3. How did you feel about being part of the online event—what did it feel like to present online, and how was the event organized?
Any of my students well testify that I like walking around while lecturing. The hardest part of it being online was having to sit still for 12 minutes! Otherwise, the transition to online teaching helped me prepare for it.
4. Have you been part of other events and talks? If so, tell us about other presenting experiences you’ve had, and topics you’ve talked about.
I have traveled to 55 countries, from Brazil to Ukraine, and many in between. Most of that traveling has been for delivering lectures. I’ve appeared across various media platforms, such as the CBS News magazine “60 Minutes” during the 2003 Iraq war. The most impactful talks were for the The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in Paris, and at the United Nations University for Peace in San José, Costa Rica.
5. What is the key to success?
Follow your passion.
6. What would you recommend to other students?
Find out how to find your passion.
And if you don’t know, try this exercise. When we think of the word “passion,” we might think of it in terms of Mexican telenovelas like Pasión Morena. We tend to forget that the word “passion” comes from Greek and means “to suffer.” After all, when we speak of the Passion of Christ, we are speaking of his suffering, not his seduction of telenovela stars.
So how to find your passion? Ask yourself what you would really miss if it disappeared from your life. If you can answer that question, you have found your passion. But also don’t be deluded by toxic passions. If you think your passion is for money or sports cars, no amount will satisfy you. Your passion has to be something intangible.