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Senator Carl Levin speaks in honor of MLK Day


Published: January 25, 2008
Section: (Audio/Video), Audio Segments, Front Page, News

HONORING KING: Michigan Democrat Senator Carl Levin delivers an address on Martin Luther King Day.U.S. Senator Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was the keynote speaker during Brandeis’s Martin Luther King Day celebration on, Jan. 21.

Charles Radin, Brandeis’s Director of Communications Operations and the moderator of the event, explained why Senator Levin was asked to attend. “We wanted to have, during an election year, more interesting political speakers.”

Radin also said that Levin’s views on the war in Iraq and his views on the government’s violation of human rights at Abu Ghraib prison and Guantanamo prison “resonate with the moral preachings that Dr. King was putting forward about Vietnam.”

Prior to Levin’s speech, Radin quoted King’s words, “in times of crisis there is such a thing as too late.” Those words were originally spoken at Riverside Church about Vietnam, but Radin suggested that they still are relevant in today’s world.

Shortly before he was assassinated, Dr. King gave a speech (which both Radin and Levin referenced) at Riverside Church entitled, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.”
PHOTO BY Napoleon Lherisson/The Hoot
Dr. King spoke of how the struggles of the national civil rights movement were connected to the war in Vietnam. Quoting a Vietnamese Buddhist, he stated, “Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat.”

He commented on how the actions of the U.S. military and government in Vietnam went directly against American ideals, the very ideals he, as a civil rights leader, encouraged and fought for the government and its citizens to uphold.

He remarked that this hypocrisy had, consequently, led to a decline of America’s spirit, and the nation’s standing in the global community.

Addressing an audience of Brandeis faculty, students, and the public, in the packed Shapiro Theater, Levin stressed a similar importance of the power of ideals and the danger if those ideals are undermined. “There is a loss of security if we violate our ideals and values,” he said.

He cited America’s decision to go to war with Iraq, its conduct in that war, and its treatment of detainees as examples of the betrayal of American ideals, resulting in the loss of support from former allies. “We need the good will of the world,” he said, “information is key to preventing terrorist attacks.”

Levin went on to condemn the current administration for issuing the ‘Terror Memo’ in 2002, a document that permits the use of aggressive interrogation techniques on the detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. These techniques included the removal of clothing, stress positions, and the exploitation of fears through the use of dogs. He criticized the administration for refusing to be accountable for these abuses.

Following his speech, a three-person panel posed questions to the Senator. The panel was composed of Guy Raiz, a defense correspondent for NPR, Prof. Ibrahim Sundiata (HIST, AAAS), and Prof. Mari Fitzduff of the Brandeis International Center for Ethics and participant in the Northern Ireland Peace Process.

Raiz asked Senator Levin why Congress has not responded to the administration’s discussion of the terms of an agreement with Iraq. The agreement would include a semi-permanent military presence of U.S. troops. Levin replied, “you’re making the assumption that the Senate won’t do anything…if the agreement constitutes as a treaty it would require ratification.”

He stated that this would be an “institutional decision” that “both Democrats and Republicans can agree on.”

However, he then listed the difficulties that the Senate would encounter in attempting to require the President to have Congress ratify the treaty.

Professor Sundiata posed a question to the senator from one of his students; “Is there no situation where desperate times require desperate measures?”

Levin, in turn, illustrated a hypothetical situation. He stated that if his grandchild were kidnapped and a person was indicated as the kidnapper, he would “take the law into his own hands” and put a gun to the presumed kidnapper’s head. He said, though, that he should “be held accountable” for his actions.

“Law can’t be lawless. It can’t be the standard. It can’t be the norm.”

Levin discussed how high level officials of the government have not been made accountable for their actions. “They take the law into their own hands…that’s what these men of zeal did.”

After the panel, it was the audience’s turn to ask questions. During the question and answer session, Levin continuously repeated that positive change in discourse and in policy would only occur with a new administration and a new president.

He specified that the world’s opinion of America will shift when a new president is elected. When asked, Levin said that he does not consider impeachment of the president a feasible option.

Overall, those who attended the event considered it to be a success. Prof. Marya Levenson (ED) said, “it was a thoughtful presentation. I agree that the current administration has hurt America, but I wish he talked more about how it has also harmed civilian Iraqis.”

For some, the connection between Martin Luther King and what Senator Levin spoke about was not readily apparent. “I thought he didn’t talk much about [Dr. King], but that was expected,” stated Mairin O’Donnell ’11.

The MLK celebration was the combined effort of 10 faculty and student organizations. Radin indicated Gen Ed Now, Student Events, MLK scholars, and the Black Student Organization as being particularly instrumental in putting the event together.

This was Gen Ed Now’s, a newly recognized club, first event in what they hope to be a series. The club’s purpose is to bring a variety of speakers to Brandeis.

For this event, members did everything from hanging posters up to helping decide the content of the MLK program.

They also asked Tom Charging Hawk ’10 to make a film documentary of the event in order to have “a student’s perspective.”