SF State News {University Communications}

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President Corrigan's Remarks at Malcolm X Plaza Regarding the War in Iraq

March 24, 2003

Good morning. The day no one wanted to see has come, and the Iraq war is thoroughly under way. I have my own strong views, as do you. But I am not here to present those views. Rather, I am here to rally our community around values and goals that have seen us through other frightening and deeply emotional times.

As we struggle with our reactions to the terrible new reality of this war, we can agree on many things:

  • We can agree that war is a tragedy.
  • We can grieve for the less of life -- civilian and military, Iraqi and coalition forces.
  • We can share the conviction that Saddam Hussein is a monstrous dictator, the cause of great suffering amoong his people.
  • We can recognize the courage and sincerity of our troops -- so many of them so very young -- who are fighting because leaders have not been able to find a better way.
  • We can also agree that this University community will -- even in the heat of great emotion -- remain a safe and free place for all points of view and all people among us. This is not new behavior. It is something we did magnificiently well after September 11. We were determined then not to let differences in background, ethnicity, or appearance cause us to treat each other badly. I believe that once again, we will ensure that scapegoating has no place at San Francisco State University.

More than many campuses, San Francisco State University feels world events personally. Within our community, we have many connections to this present conflict. Some of us have family or personal roots, cultural or religious ties to the Middle East. Some of us have friends or family who are among the armed forces at risk in Iraq. Many of us have passionate principles that shape our view of the war.

One new challenge confronts us. Like the nation itself, this campus community contains genuine, deep disagreement about the war. Whatever your view, I urge you to remember these few principles:

It is not unpatriotic to disagree with decisions or actions of our government. But it is deeply unpatriotic to stifle opposing points of view, whether by shouting them down, or, more subtly, making those who disagree with us feel unsafe or unwilling to express their views. Dissent and debate are the very heart of the American process. This freedom to speak and the ability to accommodate dissent are the hallmark of a democratic nation.

While war rages, will it be business as usual on this campus? I hope not. We are living through a critical, perhaps pivotal, moment in history, and we must remain awake for it. We need to engage with the complex issues the Iraqi conflict arouses. Now is the time to examine America's relationship to the Middle East, the principles that are guiding or should guide our leaders, the future of that troubled region, America's proper role in the world, and more.

I hope that we will see more than rallies and marches, more than large public gestures. I hope that we will see serious gatherings and thoughtful examination of the long- and short-range issues that are on the table for us -- and the world. In and out of class, you will have many opportunities for formal and informal discussion. We are presenting special events to help us all better understand the many aspects of the Iraq crisis. You will find all this information, and much more, on our home page Web site titled Tensions with Iraq.

In the last few days, San Francisco has been the site of huge, volatile anti-war gatherings. Protest is honorable; violent protest is not. It is a sad paradox when some preach peace while engaging in physical conflict. To those of you who choose to express your views through public protest, I say: Honor your cause by practicing peace.

I would like once more to assure you that whatever the course of national or world events, San Francisco State University remains a community committed to the values that can help us get through painful and uncertain times: free speech, mutual respect even in disagreement, and a conviction that to practice peace on campus is a meaningful contribution to peace in the wider world. As a wartime president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, once reminded a nation, "Peace, like charity, begins at home."




Robert A. Corrigan

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