For the last two weeks, members of Cornell for Peace and Justice (CPJ) have been mounting a still ongoing “Fast Relay,” going hungry for two days at a time to commemorate the loss of thousands of Iraqi civilian lives since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. CPJ estimates that over 100,000 Iraqis have died since the invasion, and as a result it has planned a total of 70 days of fasting by Cornell students, professors and Ithaca residents under the slogan “One Minute for Every Dead Iraqi.” 70 days is equal to 100,000 minutes.
“Compared to a lot of anti-war action this protest is very quiet and contemplative. It’s a time for introspection and a time to really think about those mothers and families in Iraq who have lost loved ones,” said Bekah Ward grad a member of CPJ.
The Fast Relay, which began on the first day of class, will last until at least November 1, including a total of at least 35 people. Although CPJ members emphasized that the chance for fasters to reflect on the tragic loss of human life was a motivating factor in the protest, “it’s also supposed to inspire contemplation in others,” Ward said.
CPJ member Phillip Kim ’06 agreed with Ward. He emphasized that one of the main goals of the protest was that, “we want to make students realize how many people have died for this totally unnecessary war, [and] to bring attention to the fact that our indefinite troop presence is causing the insurgency to continue.”
In the spirit of drawing attention to their cause, students who are fasting have been going to some classrooms to speak for a few minutes at the beginning of classes to talk about the Fast Relay and recruit new students.
Lynne Feeley ’06, a member of CPJ who fasted for two days during the first week of class explained that the experience of going without food helped her identify in a “very physical way” with how “people around the globe go around every day.” She recalled that by the second day of fasting, she became “very reflective, almost reverent. There was a sense of deprivation, of privilege being taken away.”
Cornell Republicans chairman Paul Ibrahim ’06 objected to the timing of CPJ’s hunger strike and suggested that the fasting students were overly idealistic.
“I would like to ask [CPJ] why they didn’t do this fasting protest when Saddam was in power and was starving his own people,” Ibrahim said. “War is not good, but sometimes it’s necessary, and I would ask [the fasting students] to be more realistic and to understand that the Iraqis need us now more than ever,” he added.
Ibrahim also argued that CPJ’s estimate of the number of Iraqi casualties was greatly inflated.
Feeley, however, defended CPJ’s casualty figure, which she said was based in part on information from the website Iraqbodycount.org. She also defended the use of the Fast Relay in reaction to the U.S. occupation.
“We’ve come to know that what was going on in Iraq before the invasion was terrible … [but] what is going on now is American imposed torture and cruelty, not unlike the kind that was imposed by Saddam,” Feeley said.
Although the Fast Relay was motivated largely by concern for the plight of Iraqi civilians, Ward also stressed that members of CPJ were concerned about American casualties as well.
“The Iraqis are taking the largest beating, just in terms of sheer numbers of casualties, but I do certainly care about what happens to American soldiers, and that’s why I personally advocate bringing the troops home right now,” Ward said.
CPJ has not officially endorsed an immediate withdrawal but Ward, Feeley and Kim all spoke in favor of that course of action.
Ibrahim, however, vehemently opposed withdrawal. If American troops left Iraq, he said, “the casualties the U.S. has suffered would have died for nothing. The Iraqis themselves would fall into civil war and possibly even genocide if one sect takes over.”
Archived article by Elijah Reichlin-Melnick
Sun Staff Writer