It is rather timely, in history, for this memorial. It may not be coincidence, or it may, that this memorial comes at the time of the Eid, (the finale of the holy month of Ramadan), or on the heels of the death of Chairman Yasser Arafat, the Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the President of the Palestinian People. But, I am beginning to believe that there are no such things as coincidences. I have a condolence statement here from Secretary General Nayef Hawatmeh, Amin al-Am, or Secretary General of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and a personal friend of Farouk’s, for the Chairman, Arafat. They sent a condolence statement too for Farouk, when he passed. They considered Farouk a comrade and a brother in struggle, one who, like Arafat, had the goal of achieving statehood for the Palestinian people first and foremost on his mind. We should take a moment of silence For Chairman Arafat, and for our brother Farouk.
I was going to approach this speech on a completely personal level, because I knew most people here would speak about, and remember Farouk as a revolutionary, as a rising political figure who brought many diverse people together, and who fought tirelessly for the liberation of his people. This is important and must be recognized, so I decided to include it, even though most of you already know this side of Farouk. It also must be mentioned because this is very much who Farouk was, and what he was motivated by. Farouk was a stateless Palestinian, as most of you know, who was born in Ramallah, Palestine, in 1947, where Yasser Arafat is being buried, at his Muqa’ata compound, where he was imprisoned for more than two years by the Israelis, who did not even give Arafat the honor of being treated as a head of state, like other heads of state, even criminals, are afforded all around the world.
Farouk was also imprisoned, as most of you know, by the US government, for nearly two years, for his political beliefs, first and foremost among them the liberation of his people, the Palestinians, according to the two-state formula originally laid out by the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1973, with the creation of a Palestinian State in the Palestinian areas occupied by Israel since June, 1967, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, with the old city where the holy sites are, as an international area, under international recognition and protection. He also, like Arafat, advocated the return of all Palestinian refugees made stateless with the inception of the Israeli State, according to UN Security Council Resolution 194, passed in 1949, with compensation offered to those who chose not to return.
This had been the official position of the PLO since 1973, and the official position of the DFLP, of which Farouk was a long-standing member and part, and for whom he ultimately gave his life by voicing these viewpoints publically. These organizations also since 1973, the mainstreams of them at least, formally denounced terror and terrorism, including the State terror that the Palestinian people have been subject to on a daily basis by the Israeli government, state, and occupying authorities, since the inception of the state. This was Farouk’s position as well, in addition to the recognition of the rights of oppressed peoples around the world, including workers, until their social, economic, and political liberation. It was for this, and from the motivation that stemmed from his experience of living under occupation, in refugee camps, and as a stateless Palestinian, that Farouk began to feel a sense of affinity for those oppressed people who continue to suffer around the globe from oppression, social and economic inequalities and racism. He began to relate to them from his position, widening the circle of people whose rights he was fighting for. His humanitarianism was universal. His dynamism, warmth, and charisma enabled him to bridge many gulfs, and to unite people and groups, especially here in New York, that did not formerly recognize that they had common goals, such as the Cuban people and the Palestinian people, Latin American peoples and the Palestinian people, indigenous peoples in North America and the Palestinian people, the African American people in their struggle against oppression and racism right here in the US, and the Palestinian people, and many others.
I myself met many diverse people and was introduced to many struggles in my years knowing Farouk. Many of my acquaintances and friendships in New York stem either indirectly, or directly, from Farouk. If you hung around with him, he would take you one day to a mosque to an Indonesian celebration, the next to somewhere secular to celebrate the eradication of caste in India held by former shudras or lower caste members in India who had now elevated their status, becoming doctors, engineers, educators, to a church the next day, commemorating the life of an indigenous leader, who was killed in South America by the CIA., Ms. Winnawachok, a leader of indigenous peoples in the US. Farouk was amazing at bringing these diverse peoples together, but was mostly motivated by a drive for justice for his people, the Palestinians, and, by extension, all the people of the world.
As Tarek mentioned, this was according to a socialist vision which would have called for the end of imperialism and capitalism and brought about a socialist-democratic solution to the world’s problems, including in Palestine. In keeping with the DFLP and others, Farouk saw as the culmination of the two-state solution in Palestine, a socialist-democratic state of Palestine/Israel that did not base its existence on race, religion, or class, but was truly egalitarian. Although this is still a far off vision, it is sad for me that Farouk, and even Yasser Arafat, did not live to see the realization of this dream. However, they live on in our hearts, and always will.
It is also ironic that Farouk’s memorial comes at the Eid, or end of the Islamic month of Ramadan. He was a spiritual person, if not wholly religious. He considered himself secular, but was spiritual, had deep respect for the religions of the world, and would often be seen consulting verses of the Quran, or even the Bible, for strength and wisdom. One night, or series of nights that Farouk always recognized, was the ‘night of power’, or ‘Laylat al Qadar’ in Arabic. This night would have fallen in that series of nights, the time that Farouk loved, and that he thought was really spiritual. Farouk’s favorite time of day was the Maghrib, the evening time, the time where the Muslims break their fast to celebrate, the time the Eid is brought in, the time the Layla al-Qadar, the night of power, is commenced. He would have been happy to know that his memorial was being held on this series of nights.
Ironically enough, unlike other heads of state, even though he knew many heads of state, including Arafat, Farouk died without any assets. He was buried in a plain pine box, in an Islamic burial shroud, with the clothes on his back, with only a set of prayer beads and a keychain with the flag of Palestine on it in his coffin. He does not even as of yet have a headstone, something we are working on after this memorial. Arafat’s headstone was already picked out and engraved, before he even passed. Farouk left no assets. He never owned a home. There was no money left for his family to fight over. In fact, Tarek and I were fortunate that we had so many good friends who knew Farouk to help with the burial, notwithstanding George and Anan Zahr, from Philadelhia, who stepped forward and provided funds and help in the immediacy after this unfortunate event took place. Farouk left few possessions behind.
When he came out of detention, he had only the clothes on his back. He didn’t even have the things he had saved while incarcerated, the things that were so dear to him; the correspondence of all those good people out there who wrote to him and sent him reading materials, pictures, and encouragement. Good people out here took care of him, and he soon had clothes, retrieved his correspondence from the prison (Greg Pason helped him to retrieve these), and even had a world passport, which he received one week before he died, because immigration would not give him identification, even though he needed it to even see them, or to travel. But the good people out here, Jane Guskin, David Wilson, his lawyers from the CCR, (Center for Constitutional Rights) other human rights lawyers like Lynne Stewart, and many others, helped in this situation. Macdonald Scott, WBAI, Rod Merrill, the others who supported him and the detainees, and many others, will always be remembered in my heart and in Farouk’s heart as people who truly cared, and could truly be human in an inhuman situation where the rights of people, immigrants especially, are being eroded before our very eyes. This was what was important to Farouk, the people. That’s what he lived for and embraced in the end. No possessions, but, in his obituaries and commemorations, at least twelve thousand entries, countless newspaper articles, announcements in magazines and other media outlets, even the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs carried his obituary. Farouk truly touched the hearts of countless people and groups around the world, Frontline Ireland, and others, and he had their love. I believe Farouk was, by this alone, a truly extraordinary man.
On a personal level, Farouk loved very intensely. When he loved someone, there was nothing he wouldn’t do for them. He had a true heart. He was a great communicator. He would call his friends often, and he would call me at least five times a day. We had been friends for years, and worked together on Palestine issues, which we both believed in intensely, we were even briefly involved before his incarceration, and even had our rough spots, but all during his incarceration, he never forgot about me, calling and writing, and sending cards to let me know he cared about me, as a friend, as a comrade, and, still unknown to me, as something far deeper. He never forgot about me this whole time, and never took me out of his heart. He expressed this to me when he came out of incarceration, and I have to say, I never experienced such sincerity, such caring, such unconditional love from anyone, ever, and I doubt if I ever will again.
We were together too briefly after his incarceration. It was the beginning of something new and deeper for us than anything either one of us had experienced before. Farouk honored me by making his intentions known and letting people know that I was his fiancé. We had planned to make our union legal later in the summer. For me, as much as we are commemorating his life, and as much as I agree with that, I feel he was taken from me, from us, way too soon. He was really at the beginning of his life in so many ways. His efforts of many years work was blossoming. He was accomplishing so much, people wanted to hear his story, to publish it, to run with it. He was becoming phenomenal on the radio, the last interview on KPFA in Berkely, (also a Pacifica Station) when we were in Oakland at the Bay Area Socialist Summer Conference, where we both spoke, was the best interview I had ever heard him give.
Ironically enough, he never did get the opportunity to speak on WBAI’s Wake-Up Call again. He died while in Philadelphia on Wednesday night, July 21st, 2004. Because of this meeting, he did not speak on WBAI that morning, but he did do many great interviews on WBAI as well. I know there are people here from WBAI and we are honored they are here.
Shortly before the KPFA interview, we had a great meeting with Yuri Kochiayama, an old friend of Farouk’s and a famed human rights activist who had been interned in the internment camps of the United States, where Japanese Americans were incarcerated after the Second World War, and the bombing of Hiroshima. Years earlier, when he was assassinated, Malcolm X had died in Yuri’s arms.
In Farouk, I saw a man transformed after all he had been through, including being a political prisoner in the United States. Together, we felt we could accomplish it all. I was the ‘person in the background’ who was assisting him with writing, while he did what he did best, speaking, communicating, reaching out to the people.
It is ironic that he was taken at what I saw as the zenith of his life, at the beginning of what would have been a long and prosperous life together, in ways so much more important than money. Ours would have been a life of substance, where we would have worked together to accomplish goals that were important to both of us, and our love would have provided the fuel for the fire. I am left with that, and only with the gift of knowing him, and what we could have had together.
Farouk will remain in my heart forever, and, love really is, in the end, all that remains. I know Tarek and I have to try and carry on his work, but, we will never, in any way, be able to replace him, and we wouldn’t want to. Besides feeling he had great respect for me, I know he was confident in my abilities to carry on this work, as he was in the abilities of his son. It is a hard road we all have ahead, in a rapidly degenerating world, where the forces of power and imperialism are getting more brutal everyday, and are clearly against us, as they are against all progressive elements in the world who really aspire to see justice, equity, equality, and the end to racism, oppression, and imperialism, once and for all.
We have our work cut out for us, as we all know, as Lynne Stewart, who is here among is, demonstrates in her constant fight against the US government and their unfair charges against her, as many others have experienced as well.
On a last note, if Farouk were here with us, as I believe, in some way he is, he would have written an eloquent statement of condolence for Yasser Arafat, which one of us (probably me) would have translated. And we would be presenting it at some event around the city, as we speak.
This is a great loss for me personally, as well as for many of you, and I just want to say, Farouk, I love you, Tarek loves you, and we all love you. We will never forget you, you have made a lasting impression on just about everyone you have met, and I am profoundly saddened that I will not get to spend my life with you. I said before, however, you will remain in my heart forever, and in the hearts of many of the people whose lives you have touched.
As Farouk would finish many of his letters with,
Long live Palestine!
Revolution until Victory!
*Sharin Chiorazzo, Farouk’s Fiancé, Activist, Educator and Member of Palestine Education Committee.