Hamid Karzai: 'Uphold Our Common Humanity'

The class that began college in September 2001 must always remember the moral imperatives of today's world.

BY: President Hamid Karzai

 

Adapted from the commencement address delivered May 22, 2005 to Boston University. Reprinted with permission from Boston University.



Dear graduates, my own commencement some 23 years ago was also a stepping stone but to a different future. After my graduation, I had no home to return to because my home country had been invaded by the former Soviet Union. From the university, I was ushered into the life of a refugee in a neighboring country where I joined with my people in the struggle to liberate our country and to build a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan.

A lot has changed in the world since I was your age, but, regrettably, the world is still beset by conflict, by poverty and human suffering, by injustice that violates the basic values of humanity. You are the class that began in September 2001 and as such you have been provoked perhaps more so than others to reflect on one of the gravest dangers facing our world today: terrorism. I believe for most of you, the dreadful memory of that ominous day will never fade, when thousands of innocent people in your country were indiscriminately attacked by the agents of hatred and doom. Indeed the events of 9/11 shocked the world as much as it shocked you here in America. However, terrorism in the world was not born on 9/11. In fact, for many years before September 2001, the terrorism that came to Afghanistan on the heels of invasion, interference, and violence, took the lives of thousands of our people. Regrettably the world, the United States and other countries that have the power - and hence the responsibility - did not see it compatible with their national interests to address the plight of the Afghan people then. Afghanistan was thus vulnerable to the interference of other countries in our region, who, in turn, saw their national interests in establishing control over Afghanistan at the cost of horrible suffering for the Afghan people.

Dear graduates, during your years here at Boston you have sought knowledge but you have also learned significant lessons for examining the events of the world around you. I expect that you will use your education and your values to question some of the established concepts of wisdom. In particular, I urge you to question the notion of national interest, especially when it is narrowly defined and pursued at the expense of other people - where it justifies the inflicting of pain on others and where it allows the neglect of human suffering.

I urge you to discover how moral imperative must also drive our actions even when there are no economic or political motives. I believe in a redefinition of the prevailing notion of national interest on the basis of fundamental moral premise is the way forward to our common future.

Of all, it is our humanity that ultimately brings us together while the pursuit of narrow interests divides us all. My appeal to you as the leaders of tomorrow, as people who will be in the position to make decisions of consequences, is to allow morality and the sense of fundamental concern for humanity guide your decisions.

When you see on the news or read in the newspaper that so many people were killed in places far away, do not let these numbers become mere abstractions to you. These are real people, like you and I. They are families, friends; they have pain, they have grief. We must not turn away when we hear the cries of the hungry. We must not stand by when we see the killing and terrorizing of the innocent. We should not wait until hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of our fellow human beings have died as occurred in Afghanistan, before we act. Every time we ignore the suffering of others or stand by and watch, we do not only act against our own interests but we violate a part of our humanity. And we do not have to wait for our governments to save people from misery because it will be just too late for many. As individuals, we can make a difference as well.

Not too long ago I watched a documentary filmed by the BBC of the British artist, Bob Geldof, which told the story of the famine in Ethiopia two decades ago, and that day, I really felt ashamed of myself as a human being. I watched on that documentary helpers-humanitarian workers-picking up children of two years of age or three years of age or four or five years of age who had the chance to survive, to feed them, leaving the others to die because there was no food.

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