Sewage running down the sides of streets and rats scurrying through housing were examples of violent poverty in Iraq that 2000 Noble Prize Nominee Kathy Kelly cited in a speech last night to about 100 students in Angell Hall.
Kelly urged her audience to oppose another war with Iraq and to clamor for an end to the economic sanctions that she says have devastated Iraqi’s for the last 12 years.
“The U.S. public suffers from a deplorable lack of information,” she said. “We should maintain the cry for peace even among others’ cry for war.”
Kelly expressed her frustration that although Iraq consented to allowing weapons inspectors within its borders, the Bush administration is poised for war – alluding to the speculation that if inspectors go to the country, military forces may accompany them.
“I can’t believe that in residential and commercial areas, there would be American forces occupying the streets,” Kelly said.
Kelly has participated in 16 visits to Iraq as part of the organization Voices in the Wilderness, which sends volunteers to the country to observe the conditions of its people. She presented examples of the destitution in Iraq that she has seen in her travels. In addition to living on a strict diet of lentils and rice, she said the people must nourish themselves with contaminated water and live in houses with no roofs in 100-degree temperatures.
One spectator was so distraught from Kelly’s description of the people, she left the event in tears before it finished.
“She was sent by God. I don’t remember being to a lecture where someone was so brave and inspirational and her solution to the world problems are simple, just through love and courage,” said the attendee, who wished to remain anonymous.
Rackham student Eric Reichenberger, a member of the Muslim Student Association, which hosted the event, said “most people don’t see the effect of sanctions on the Iraqi people. They’re just trying to survive, not change their leadership.”
Kelly said she was skeptical that the Bush administration wants to democratize Iraq through war, recalling the support that the United States gave the regime in the ’80s.
“The U.S. helped (Iraq) use chemical weapons to get Iran. They were not worried then,” Kelly said. “I don’t think they want regime change. I think they want change in leadership.”
She also said the Bush administration wants to ameliorate the nation’s recession through conflict, adding that although the horror of Sept. 11 demands action from the United States, the government must remember the conditions of people in less fortunate countries before it acts.
“It seemed to me the best people who could understand the loss, agony and grief are the people of Iraq,” she said.
Many students left the event impressed with Kelly’s speech.
“Her point of view is refreshing,” LSA sophomore Peter Woiwode said. “It reinstates feelings that were faded because of the media playing the war up as necessary. It brought it back to my mind that it was wrong.”
Engineering sophomore Mike Albertus said, “I think that everyone in the United States has interest in foreign policy and how we can affect so greatly something that’s going on across the globe. A lot of people don’t realize how our policy affects so many others.”