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Volume 71, Issue 132, Friday, April 21, 2006


Iraqi boxer deserves to be a Cougar

Fabian Sifuentes
Opinion columnist 

Since Iraq was liberated from the tyrannical dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, the United Sates has waged a public relations war against insurgents while trying to justify its continued occupation of Iraq.

A plethora of feel-good stories have come home from Iraq of good deeds done by our armed forces.

Schools are being built to educate Iraqi children, and the nation's infrastructure is being rebuilt to provide Iraqis utility services that we take for granted here. Soldiers have provided arranged transportation to the United States for Iraqis needing medical attention unavailable in the Middle East.

Now, all America must do to have another feel-good story out of Iraq is approve a student visa so, an Iraqi can study at the UH. Instead, they struck out swinging.

Najah Ali was a flyweight boxer for the 2004 Iraqi Olympic team. To fund training for the Olympics, Ali, along with a number of other Iraqi athletes, was sponsored by the United States Olympic Committee. 

Despite the threat of retribution at home, Ali was the only Iraqi athlete to grant interviews to media at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

Ali suffered his first setback in Athens when his first application for a student visa was denied. Since Athens, Ali has made a 500-mile pilgrimage three times to the U.S. embassy in Jordan to submit more student visa applications. Each has been denied.

He has no intention on staying in America after completing his education at UH because he wants to return to his home in Iraq. Instead of rejecting Ali, the government should allow him to further his education here. If we want democracy to succeed in Iraq, we must acclimate as many Iraqis as possible to the concept of the market place of ideas.

It shocks me that Ali is good enough to be used as a poster boy for good will with Iraq, but he isn't good enough for a visa. Now, Ali's interest to study at UH is waning. Like locusts in a crop field, the U.S. government got what it wanted out of Ali and left him when there was nothing left for him to give.

Before Rep. Tom DeLay's resignation takes effect, he should do the right thing and pull some strings so Ali can get his visa. That would be the right thing to do -- Cougar alumni should help prospective Cougars, right? 

Unfortunately for Ali, I don't think he has the money to make a large enough campaign donation to make it happen.

Another prominent lawmaker could do the right thing for Ali as well, but that would require him taking pictures with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. The pictures wouldn't be bad if you don't mind being in a shot with a camera hog.

If the U.S. government wants to improve its image in the Middle East, it needs to do a better job helping the people who helped us.

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