A room overcrowded with students and members of the general public burst into applause following Rashid Khalidi's pronouncement that "we owe reparations to the Iraqi people," Tuesday night.
Khalidi, Edward Said professor of Arab studies and director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University, spoke along with Anthony Arnove, author of Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal, at "5 Years of Occupation: U.S. Policy in the Middle East," dissecting the Iraq War and its context in today's world.
The event focused specifically on sectarian violence and ethnic tension in Iraq, on what they said were American failures to mitigate a growing refugee crisis, and on other likely long-term consequences.
"The consequences, the implications, the effects of this war with Iraq will be with us for many, many years," Khalidi said.
"In the U.S. embassy in Iraq, which is the largest embassy the U.S. has in the world and the largest any country has anywhere in the world, there is not a single person taking applications for asylum," Arnove said. "They just don't care."
Khalidi stressed the importance of the Iraqi issue to this year's election, particularly the value of making the public aware of the candidates' positions. "If they vote for McCain, let them do it with their eyes open," Khalidi said. "To his credit, he is a straight talker—he said 100 years."
Both speakers said that high-participation anti-war activism is essential for creating the kind of public pressure that they say is the only force likely to bring unilateral withdrawal. "These things are done in our name," Khalidi said. "The 60-odd, 70 percent of us who are opposed to this war ought to be able to have some purchase."
The event, hosted by groups Lucha and Students for Justice in the Middle East, as well as others, drew a huge crowd of over 100, some of whom had to sit on the floor.
Lucha Chair Johanna Ocaña, CC '10, was pleased with both the turnout and the variety of questions asked during the lengthy question-and-answer session that followed the speeches.
"Speakers are always great," she explained, "but then you're left with questions, and if you just go home and Google it, what was the point of coming?"
However, some found the speakers to be ideologically shortsighted. "I wish that Khalidi could be speaking to those of us who aren't already converted," said self-described "Middle East obsessive" Leona Naric Gold, who came from Ridgewood, NJ to attend.
Organizers said the talk was part of the process of expanding campus advocacy. "There are antiwar groups on campus," SJME treasurer Jake Matilsky, GS '09, said, "and we've got to start getting the world out."