With "pro-life" Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, proudly looking on, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan gave the Fordham commencement address and received an honorary degree on May 19. The hypocrisy of honoring the "assassination czar" was too much for some Fordham grads, including me, a Muslim-American graduate in political science.
The day I read in Fordham's newspaper, The Ram, that John Brennan would be the commencement speaker at my graduation, it felt like a knife went through my heart. As a Muslim-American who knows the horrors that Brennan's draconian policies of spying, drone attacks, and torture have caused my Muslim brothers and sisters and their families around the world, I was determined to protest his speaking at my graduation.
In the week before graduation, Fordham's Progressive Students for Justice set up a Facebook page: Action Against Brennan on Graduation, where students engaged in a dialogue regarding Brennan's policies. I was shocked at how viciously those of us protesting Brennan were criticized by ignorant, misguided students.
As if the persistent ad hominem attacks were not enough, numerous vitriolic comments were filled with hurtful Islamophobic rhetoric as well. Many were purely ethnocentric in nature and were based on blind emotion rather than sound, pertinent reasoning. It truly amazed me how some students could have such a clouded perception of the reality of U.S. foreign policy, and how they do not seem able to understand how these policies do so much harm.
On the day of graduation, I readied a 24-inch-by-36-inch poster for my protest (see image above). On it, I had mounted a photo of Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, a 16-year-old boy killed by a drone missile two weeks after his father, Anwar Al-Awlaki, also was killed by a missile from a U.S. drone. My poster read, "16 Y/O U.S. CITIZEN KILLED BY U.S. DRONE." Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki's photo has become an iconic symbol representing the countless Muslims who have been killed by U.S. drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Somalia.
Father and son were both American citizens. The younger Al-Awlaki was born in Denver, Colorado, while the elder in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The elder Al-Awlaki had not been charged with a crime and received no due process before his extra-judicial execution. The U.S. government simply labeled him a senior al-Qaeda operative in Yemen.
To others, he was an Islamic scholar who preached against the injustices that the U.S. has inflicted on Muslims, and who encouraged Muslims to fight to protect themselves and their religion -- and, in particular, defend themselves against foreign occupiers.
Like Father, Like Son ... Dead
With regard to Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, U.S. officials have refused to answer questions on the record about how or why he was killed on Oct. 14, 2011, in a remote part of Yemen, along with eight other people. Some unidentified U.S. officials have told reporters that he was not targeted but was killed as "collateral damage" in a strike allegedly aimed at a co-traveler, Ibrahim al-Banna, an Egyptian said to be a senior operative in Yemen's al-Qaeda affiliate.
Whether Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki was targeted and killed because he was Anwar Al-Awlaki's son, or his killing is listed under the classic euphemistic rubric "collateral damage," the boy is dead. And it is repugnant whichever way he died.
As for the euphemistically dead -- with their corpses placed on the "collateral damage" heap -- their killing is no less unconscionable, even more so, inasmuch as civilian deaths are a common and frequent occurrence. Brennan's recent claim that such killing is "exceedingly rare" cannot bear close scrutiny. Copious evidence on the ground proves otherwise.
Brennan said the following in his April 30 speech on drones:
"As the President and others have acknowledged, there have indeed been instances when -- despite the extraordinary precautions we take -- civilians have been accidently injured, or worse, killed in these strikes. It is exceedingly rare, but it has happened."
Taking in stride the killing of civilians (even when "accidental") is, in my view, simply unacceptable. Tacking on the tag "militant" (whatever that is supposed to mean) helps not a whit.
In my opinion, the U.S. has no business raining down missiles on "militants" or "suspected terrorists" in countries, like Yemen, with which the U.S. is not at war. Such violence serves only to ensure an endless reservoir of hatred for the U.S. and the governments it props up, an endless chain of business orders for the profiteering military-industrial complex (MIC), and an endless stream of dollars from the MIC to members of the House and Senate.
Breaking Fordham's "Demonstration Policy"
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