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Berkeley Convocation Address

Fadia Rafeedie


Following is the text of Fadia Rafeedies Cal-Berkeley convocation address.

For those of you who may be unaware, Madeline Albright was the commencement speaker. Fadia, the student speaker who earned the distinguished honor of addressing the audience, is Palestinian. Because Secretary Albright was invited to speak, Fadia put aside her proposed speech (which had already been read and approved by the University) and instead spoke from her heart about her views of Albright and U.S. policy in Iraq.

 Fadia: Thank you, that was way too generous, Chancellor Berdahl. It makes me sound, you know, a lot better than I am. I had a speech and its right here. It took me so long to draft it and I kept redrafting it, and this morning I changed it again, but Im just going to put it to the side and Im going to talk from my heart because what I witnessed here today, I have mixed feelings about.

 I dont know why Im up here articulating the viewpoints of a lot of my comrades out there who were arrested, and not them. Its not because I got, you know, straight As or maybe it is. Maybe thats the way the power structure works, but Im very fortunate to be able to give them a voice.  I think thats what Im going to do, so if you give me your attention, Id really appreciate it. I was hoping to speak before Secretary Albright, but that was also a reflection of the power structure, I think, to sort of change things around and make it difficult for people who are ready to articulate their voice in ways they dont usually get a chance to.

 So Im going to improvise, and Im going to mention some things that she didnt mention at all in her speech but which most of the protesters were actually talking about. You know, I think its really easy for us to feel sorry for her, and I was looking at my grandmothers who are actually in the audience-my grandmother and her sister - who werent really happy with all the protesters, and I think they thought that wasnt really respectful of them, and a lot of you didnt, I dont think, because you came to hear her speak. But I think what the protesters did was not embarrass our university. I think they dignified it.

 Because secretary Albright didnt even mention Iraq, and thats what they were here to listen to. And I think sometimes NOT saying things not mentioning things-is actually lying about them. And what I was going to tell her while she was sitting on the stage with me, I was going to remind her that four years ago from this Friday when we were freshmen, I heard her on 60 Minutes talking to a reporter who had just returned from Iraq.

 The reporter was describing that a million children were dying [died] due to the sanctions that this country was imposing on the people of Iraq. And she told her, listen, thats more children than have died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Do you think the price is worth it? [Albright] looked into the camera and she said, the price is worth it. Since that time, 3 times that number of people have died in Iraq. And I was going to tell her, do you really think the price is worth it? We are about 5000 here today, next month, by the time we graduate, thats as many people who are going to die in Iraq because of the sanctions. This is what House Minority Whip David Boniors calls infanticide masquerading as policy.

 Now, I dont want to make the mood somber here because this is our commencement, but commencement means beginning, and I think its important for us to begin where civilization itself began, and where its now being destroyed. [applause]

Let me talk to you a little bit a little bit more about the sanctions, because I think its very important. Now, Im a Palestinian, I would really love to talk about the struggle for the liberation of my country, and to talk about a whole bunch of other things and I see some people maybe rolling their eyes, and other people nod-ding these are controversial issues, but I need to speak about Iraq because I think whats happening there is a genocide. Its another holocaust. And Im a history major, and sometimes I look back at history and I see things like the slave trade, the Holocaust you know, I see, I see people dropping atomic bombs and not thinking what the ramifications are, and I dont want us to think about Iraq that way. Its already a little too late because 2.5 million people have died and yet these sanctions continue.

 For the last 10 years, you wouldnt imagine the kinds of things that arent being let into this country: heart machines, lung machines, needles, un infrastructural parts to build the economy. Even cancer patients sometimes some of the medicine will be let in, but not ALL of the medicine. Its very strategic whats let in at what time, because what it does is it prolongs life, but it doesnt save it. In Iraq, the hospitals they clean the floors with gasoline because detergent isnt even allowed in because of the sanctions.  These are all United States policies. And Secretary Albright - I have no conflict with HER, as an individual. I dont happen to RESPECT her, but she belongs to a larger power structure. Shes a symbol. And when the pro-testers are protesting, its not because they want to pick a fight with the woman who you guys all happen -well, many of you - happen to love. She was introduced as the greatest woman of our times. Now see, to me thats an insult. [applause] This woman is doing HORRIBLE things. Shes allowing innocent people to suffer and to die.

 Iraq used to be the country in the Arab World that had the best medical services and social services for its people, and NOW look at it. Its being OBLITERATED. And a lot of times you might hear its because of Saddam Hussein and Id like to talk a little bit about that. Hes a brutal dictator - I agree with her, and I agree with many of you. But again, Im a history major, and history means origins. It means beginnings. We need   to see whos responsible for how strong Saddam Hussein has gotten. When he when he was gassing the Kurds, he was gassing them using chemical weapons that were manufactured in Rochester, New York. And when he was fighting a long and protracted war with Iran, where 1 million people died, it was the CIA that was funding him. It was U.S. policy that built this dictator. When they didnt NEED him, they started imposing sanctions on his people. Sanctions - or any kind of policy - should be directed at peoples governments, not at the people.

 The cancer rate in Iraq has risen by over 70 percent since the Gulf War. The children who are dying from these malicious and diseases, werent born when the Gulf War happened. The reason that the cancer rate is so high is because every other day our country is bombing Iraq  STILL. Were still at war with them. They have no nuclear capabilities. In fact, just last week, the United Nations inspectors found [again] that Iraq has no nuclear capabilities and yet WE are BOMBING them every other day with depleted uranium.

And what this does is it releases a gas that the people breathe. Its making them ill, and theyre dying and they dont have medicine. I saw some of my friends, even, being arrested here today. One of them was Lillian. Her aunt did a documentary about this depleted uranium, and it showed that its being MINED by Native American populations in the United States.  THEYRE getting sick. Their children are getting sick. And that depleted uranium is going from HERE, to our MILITARY, to Iraq, and its decimating populations. This is a big deal. And Im embarrassed that I dont even get to talk about Columbia, because I saw a few signs about that, too. And my colleague here, Darren Noy, whos also a Finalist, is very interested in these issues. We dont stand alone. Im on stage with allies, Im looking out at allies,  we need allies, my allies have been taken away [today]. But in general, I mean, Im speaking to a crowd that gave a standing ovation to the woman who typifies everything against which I stand, and Im still telling you this because I think its important to understand. And I think, that if I achieve nothing else, if this makes you think a little bit about Iraq, think a little bit about U.S. foreign policy, Ive succeeded. I dont want to take too much of your time, but I want to end my speech with a slogan that hangs over my bed in Arabic. It says, La tastaw hishu tareeq al-haq min qilit es-saireen fi hi which translates as, Fear not the path of truth for the lack of people walking on it. [Nahjul Balagha, Imam Ali] I think our future is going to be the future of truth, and were going to walk on that path, and were going to fi ll it with travelers.


Thank you very much.   

[Standing ovation from the stage, with the faculty members, the senior class council, and the student award-winners. And, of course, standing ovation from a cheering section in the crowd.]