Despite the large crowd that filled Campbell Hall on Saturday evening, when Yemeni journalist Tawakkol Karman asked for a moment of silence for the victims of the deadly chemical attacks in Syria, the air was completely still.
Co-sponsored by UCSB Arts & Lectures and the Walter Capps Foundation, Karman, the first female Arab and Yemeni Nobel laureate, came from Istanbul to discuss tyranny, terrorism and the Arab Spring as a part of the World Harmony lecture series. UC Santa Barbara is the first UC campus to host her.
“Dear brothers and sisters,” she began, a phrase she repeated multiple times. “I am so proud to be here.”
She expressed her “sadness and anger” at violent events that have occurred in Syria, especially those in her region, such as the recent chemical weapons attack in Syria that she blamed on Assad’s tyrannical regime.
She focused her lecture on tyranny and the Arab Spring, which she described as a “response to the decay of justice.”
“Our revolution is not a fleeting whim, but needs that we have had for many years,” she said.
Karman organized student rallies in Sana’a, the largest city in Yemen and was imprisoned several times in 2011. In Yemen’s opposition movement, she is known as the “Iron Woman” and described going to prison as the “best moment of [her] life.”
“They were stupid when they took me to the jail, because it made me very strong,” she said.
Karman’s incarceration led to Yemeni people rioting in the streets, calling for her release and repeating her chants, which engaged students in the revolution.
She also spoke about both President Donald Trump and former President Barack Obama, expressing her disappointment with their relationships with Syria.
When asked about her views of Obama, she said she “expected a lot from him, as a human,” but found herself disappointed.
“I blame him on the bloodshed in Syria,” she said. “I believe that he could stop the bloodshed.”
Despite this, Karman said she respects him and believes he did great things within the U.S.
Karman went on to criticize President Trump’s travel ban, which she called a violation of international human rights and “values as an American.”
“Whoever brands Muslims with terror is not only lying and ignorant, he is directly and indirectly helping terrorism,” she said.
She also spoke about how religion was used against her and other women who tried to demonstrate.
“Dictators use religion to build walls between nations,” she said. “All of us should be against the bad religious people who translate religion in a bad way.”
She urged the audience to take responsibility to protect their values, including “peace, love, coexistence and democracy.”
Karman spoke extensively about terrorism and said despotism and terrorism are two sides of the same coin.
According to Karman, the Western “catastrophic failure” in the Iraq War created conditions for the Islamic State (I.S.). She also said she believes Assad created I.S. to stop the peaceful Syrian revolution.
“Silence has given Assad the permission to keep killing the Syrian people,” she said. “We don’t accept any choice between terrorism and despotism. The only choice we will make and we will win and we will struggle for is democracy.”
Karman did express hope for the future and said university students are a part of the generation “that will protect the world better than we are doing now.”
“Don’t let anyone to steal your values,” she said to the students in the audience. “You are the creator of the future, my son, my daughter. Be a leader; the world needs you.”