to the Model Arab League
April 12, 2002
The following remarks were delivered by President Robert A. Corrigan to the Model Arab League held at San Francisco State University on April 12, 2002.
Thank you, Dwight. Vice Consul Ismail, Secretary-General Condeso, Mr, Stiltz, faculty advisors -- and above all, delegates -- welcome to San Francisco State University. I am particularly pleased to have this opportunity to say a few words as you embark on a stimulating, challenging - and, I would predict, often difficult -- immersion in the pressing issues of the Arab world today.
You could not be doing this at a more critical time. The September 11 attacks and the escalating Palestinian-Israeli conflict have refocused the world's attention on the Middle East. The League of Arab States itself has, in the last month, made headlines by its summit and subsequent endorsement of a Saudi peace proposal. Other issues, though less in the public eye, are vitally important to the nations you are here to represent. Your agenda reflects them: women's rights, child labor, organized crime, drug trafficing, environmental protection, the international image of Arabs.
I am not here to offer my own opinions about any of those issues, but rather, to talk about this campus in a number of forums in recent months: Now, more than ever, all leaders, and all people, need to do their utmost to ensure that two of the most cherished values of free societies remain in balance. We need to match our right to speak our mind with others' right to have their views, feelings, and human dignity respected.
It is not easy to find this balance, particularly when the subjects under discussion -- the Palestinian conflict, culpability for and eradication of terrorism, competing historical rights, America's role and impact on the world -- are automatically sensitive. However, if any of us hope to mediate political differences and to effect positive change, we need to recognize the humanity of those we might be tempted to describe as "enemies."
A week ago, recognizing the high emotions we could expect on campus during upcoming rallies marking the Deir Yassin massacre, Holocaust Remembrance Day, and Palestinian rights, I sent an e-mail to all our faculty, students, and staff. Much of its message strikes me as equally fitting today. As each of you in the campus delegations prepares to take on the identity of one of the leading Arab nations, I hope that you will work consciously to speak, act, and frame your resolutions in a way that recognizes the humanity of all members of the world community, that avoids stereotyping and generalizations, that sees individuals, not embodiments of evil.
I know that maintaining this attitude can be terribly difficult, especially when each morning we awake to news of the latest horrors in the Middle East and each night we see the day's violence play out on television. This portrait of conflict, seemingly without end, victimizing the innocent on both sides, is both terrifying and tragic. After September 11, both our nation and much of the global community found it relatively easy to come together. Different political views and different global perspectives temporarily receded into the background as we grieved together and took strength from one another.
Now, however, we are being more severely tested. In this last week on campus, sometimes we met the test, and sometimes we did not. We saw one student club circulate a flier that included a particularly repellent example of anti-Semitism, referring to "Jewish blood rites" and echoing a type of ugly myth that has been used through the centuries specifically to generate hatred.
But balanced against that was the action of another student group, the General Union of Palestinian Students -- sponsors of a major rally -- whose members quietly stationed themselves between pro-Palestinian marchers and a counter-demonstration of Hillel students, ensuring that dissent was peaceful and no personal hostility was directed toward the Jewish students.
We heard one outside speaker laud the Hamas bombers and assert that "Zionists are behind the attacks on affirmative action." But much more powerful were the words of another outside speaker, Eyad Kishawi, of the Free Palestine Alliance. Wearing one of the yellow Stars of David being handed out that day by Hillel, he told the campus crowd of about 1000: "Justice is universal, suffering is indeed universal...There is no monopoly over suffering, no monopoly over justice." He made specific, respectful mention of Holocaust Remembrance Day, saying, "I stand here commemorating the Holocaust on one hand and raising the Palestinian flag on the other hand." Of course, he had strong political statements to make, objecting to "Zionism" and calling for a national boycott of Israeli products and insisting that universities divest in Israel. He was frank, intense, pro-Palestinian -- all without demonizing those who represented the "other side" in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Afterward, a member of our Jewish Studies faculty sought Mr. Kishawi out to introduce himself and say: "We disagree about a lot of things, but I want you to know that I appreciated your remarks."
That is the spirit in which I hope you -- and your real-world counterparts -- can find a way to proceed. I hope that between now and Sunday afternoon you will live out your roles in a way that makes this Model Arab League gathering a sustaining and healing place, a microcosm of what we would like the world to be. May you have a rewarding and productive experience in your time here.
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