I’d like to thank the City Council of Chicago today for their time and consideration of this important resolution. I am Farrah Hassen, Carol and Ed Newman Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. I speak as an Arab and Muslim American who has family in the Middle East, has visited the region, and for full disclosure, loves America but is concerned about the direction of U.S. policy in the region.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the Middle East is plagued with multiple crises—from the lingering political stalemate in Lebanon, the war in Iraq to the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Last Friday in Washington D.C., I had the opportunity to hear from Iraqi women who have become refugees since the 2003 war, displaced from their homes, families and culture as a direct result of the instability and violence in their country. According to the International Organization for Migration, there are presently 2.7 million internally displaced Iraqis and over 2.4 million refugees. Please indulge me as I share what I learned—and how that connects to opposing a war on Iran.
A woman named Ban spoke about her ordeal. She was forced to leave Iraq with her young son in 2004 after her husband—who used to work for the U.S. military—was killed. Her young daughter also perished in an attack. She was one of the lucky few granted asylum by the U.S. and now lives in Oklahoma, although struggles to make a living. She has not received any assistance from the U.S.—the same country that promised Iraqis a better life after removing Saddam Hussein’s regime from power.
Ban erupted in tears after showing the audience a photo album with pictures of her young, beautiful daughter. No doubt, numerous problems exist in today’s new Iraq—political, economic, social. But Ban’s testimony speaks to the larger, unresolved, underreported refugee crisis, which requires immediate attention from the U.S. and the international community. “No Iraqi wants to leave his or her country,” she emphasized in despair. “We need help,” she begged.
Those Iraqis who don’t have the means to flee their country to neighboring Syria or Jordan, or who are forced to return back after their visas expire and money runs out, have in some cases resorted to selling their kidneys—some Iraqi women have even turned to prostitution for survival.
Until I heard from Ban and witnessed her voluminous tears, I admit I had almost become desensitized about Iraq, because of the daily news headlines reporting car bombs, assassinations, kidnappings, torture.
In case anyone needs to be reminded, Iraq remains, for lack of a better term, a mess—a mess for Iraqis, whose destinies have been altered, for Iraq’s neighbors, who fear the spillover effects of violence in their own war-weary countries, and for the U.S.—for the brave troops and their families, with the war costing over 4,000 lives and countless wounded. On the economic front, the projected cost of the war has reached $3 trillion.
If Iraq, therefore, remains a mess, and the Middle East remains plunged in multiple crises, why should the United States—whether under Bush, or McCain, Clinton or Obama—even consider exacerbating tensions in the region by attacking Iran? Especially, if Iran has not threatened the U.S. Logic should dictate that we resolve existing crises, as opposed to creating new ones.
After hearing the Iraqi women share their horrific stories, I remember thinking, “I hope that a year from now, I don’t have to hear from Iranian refugees—or from anyone else displaced from a new, unprovoked war.”
To reiterate, the United States cannot afford to be bogged down in another war. Afghanistan remains unstable, and any attack by the United States on Iran would distract the Pentagon from its task of controlling Afghanistan and tracking down Osama bin Laden. A war would continue to sideline the plight of Iraqi refugees, and create another wave of displaced people in the region.
An attack would also inflame anti-American sentiment throughout the Muslim world. Already, according to a recent Arab Public Opinion poll conducted by Professor Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland, 83 percent of those polled in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates hold an unfavorable view of the United States. Increased anti-American sentiment does precious little to enhance U.S. interests in the Middle East and throughout the world and threatens the security of all Americans—in Chicago and beyond.
No doubt, both the U.S. and Iran have their grievances. A more constructive U.S. posture should elevate diplomacy and negotiations with Iran. Bush, along with the current presidential aspirants, should review the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations.
Here’s one worth testing out: The United States should “engage directly” with Iran to “obtain their commitment to constructive policies toward Iraq and other regional issues.”
The alternative is just too hazardous.
By supporting the resolution before you, you send a strong, clear statement to the President, the presidential candidates, American citizens and the world: that is, you remain determined to elevate peace, justice and diplomacy, over bellicose rhetoric, violence, and aggression. All politics is local, after all.