Following the U.S. airstrike that killed former Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani on Jan. 3, hundreds of students, faculty and Ann Arbor community members organized Wednesday outside Angell Hall for a demonstration against U.S. imperialism and potential war in Iran.
The event featured nine different speakers, including students from various multicultural organizations on campus and a University of Michigan professor. Each spoke against potential war in Iran and related their personal experiences to the events happening in the Middle East. LSA junior Amytess Girgis emceed the demonstration.
People gathered in solidarity at the event to oppose the imperialistic tendencies of the American government, Girgis said. As an Iranian-American, she told The Daily she felt especially devastated by the recent events.
"We're Americans, and we're really, really frustrated with the way that our administration is acting and the degree to which it can militarize around the world without many repercussions," Girgis said. "So, as an Iranian-American and as an American, and as someone who cares about people here and around the world, I am frustrated."
Political tensions between Iran and the U.S. span several decades, and have been escalated by the recent airstrike. The Trump administration and the Pentagon claim they decided to strike against Soleimani to protect Americans from a future Iranian attack and because past actions of Soleimani had resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Americans.
Iran retaliated by releasing more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two military bases in Iraq that housed about 500 members of the U.S. military. There were no casualties. In response, Trump gave an address Wednesday morning, saying Iran seems to be standing down but that he will be imposing new sanctions on Iran.
While speaking at the demonstration, University professor Juan Cole said Soleimani's death was highly unwarranted and that the U.S. should not go to war with Iran.
"We have to make a stand against unjust war," Cole said. "The killing of General Soleimani was not the killing just of a bad guy. It was an assassination ... We have a rogue government. It's a government we cannot trust with our security or our lives, and the way forward with Iran is the way of peace, not a war."
Public Policy senior Arwa Gayar, president of the Arab Student Association, explained her frustration with the separation between people in her community and their loved ones, unsure about the safety of their families.
"I already see members of my community questioning if they can return back to their home and see their families in the coming months," Gayar said. "Many of us ... are already forced to leave our own home countries, due to the U.S. history of imperialism, American wars in the Middle East and legacies of colonialism. We now find the security of our families unknown once more."
LSA sophomore Noah Streng told The Daily he came to the demonstration because he wanted to help people who were suffering in the Middle East.
"When I see the Trump administration escalating the war and assassinating foreign officials in order to invade a foreign power, that is very alarming to me," Streng said. "So I want to do everything I can to prevent the deaths of millions of more people due to U.S. interests."
Streng said all Americans should do what they can to protect Iranians whose lives are being put at risk.
"I think that working-class people in the United States have more in common with Iranian working-class people than they do American billionaires," Streng said. "We should be standing in solidarity with the families, the innocent people who are living in Iran, who will die due to our government's actions in their nation — our illegal actions in their nation."
A group of students from the Persian Students Association ended the demonstration by performing a spoken word poem about some of the challenges and experiences of being Iranian-American.
Counter-protesters in favor of American intervention in the Middle East and in support of Soleimani's assassination were also present throughout the demonstration. Many attendees engaged in disputes with the counter-protesters about their differences in policies. LSA senior Courtney Weigal, a counter-protester, said she believes the killing of Soleimani was fully justified.
"When it comes to looking at ... all the build-up to the situation, all the provocation, it's just common sense that you have to retaliate back, otherwise they're going to keep pushing and pushing at you, and I mean we could have had another Benghazi with that situation," Weigal said. "A lot of people just don't understand just how dangerous Iran is right now and just because you're anti-war for America doesn't mean that war still won't happen anywhere else."
The event also focused on how to move forward and learn from these situations, according to Girgis. Those who organized the demonstration plan on hosting teach-in events over the next several weeks in Washtenaw County to help people better understand the situation in the Middle East.
Zaynab Elkolaly, Ann Arbor City Commissioner, spoke at the demonstration. She said she found attending anti-war rallies encouraging.
"You all being here has given me hope; you are the hope," Elkolaly said. "If we continue to mobilize, and continue to show not only the Trump administration but every single administration, whether it's Republican or Democratic, that we will not be silenced, we will not give our tax dollars to another war, that's when we will be victorious."