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Food for Thought

JoAnne_With_Suraya_Pakzad

Monday was a very special day at Temple Law School. Esteemed lawyer Floyd Abrams delivered the Arlin and Neysa Adams lecture in constitutional law. Our thanks first goes to Judge and Mrs. Adams for endowing this lecture series, which has brought many distinguished speakers to the law school.

Floyd Abrams is a partner and member of the executive committee of Cahill Gordon and Reindel. He has argued numerous cases, successfully, in front of the United States Supreme Court, is the author of two books on the First Amendment, and has received honors too numerous to list here. Mr. Abrams focused his speech on First Amendment issues still outstanding, and addressed First Amendment issues still lingering on America’s college and university campuses. As a passionate supporter of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, Mr. Abrams expressed concern about intolerance on college campuses.  He offered observations of historical and recent cases (including Citizens United), and talked about recent events in this nation (including the fraternity chant at the University of Oklahoma) that have severely tested our tolerance for intolerant speech. The remarks were excellent – a view shared by all, including those who did not agree with all of Mr. Abrams’ conclusions. His intellect was apparent, and I know that long after today’s lecture those of us in the audience will think very carefully about the points he was making.

“It was the sort of evening that reminds you of how privileged we are to live in America, and how others in this world still very much need our help.”

That evening, I had the extraordinary opportunity to spend time with Suraya Pakzad, a woman’s rights activist from Afghanistan. Her name may be familiar to you. In 2009, Time Magazine named her one of the Time 100. And in 2011, Newsweek named her as one of the 150 Women Who Shake the World. Suraya lives an extraordinary life and describes riveting experiences. Starting in 1998, she spearheaded resistance to the Taliban, establishing schools for girls when such activity could have resulted in death.  She described how she and others always kept kerosene handy. If the Taliban arrived, they would burn any evidence that they were providing education to girls. Suraya opened shelters for women who were the victims of domestic violence and who were fleeing the horrors of forced marriages.  She has endured numerous threats from Taliban warlords, including one who told her, “Killing a woman is easier than having a cup of tea.”

It was the sort of evening that reminds you of how privileged we are to live in America, and how others in this world still very much need our help. It was also an opportunity to meet some of those who are doing what they can to offer help. Among those in attendance was a man who owns a zipper factory in Scranton, and funds – to the tune of millions- water projects in Afghan towns. Do you ever wonder what you would do if you had millions you didn’t need?

Suraya was in Philadelphia to raise funds to start a restaurant in Afghanistan. Right now, the women in Afghan shelters have nowhere to go. Having defied the establishment, they cannot return to their homes. Suraya, who has friends in Scranton, Pennsylvania, started a restaurant in Afghanistan, called “Scranton,” where survivors of abuse who live in shelters can work to make a living. She was in Philadelphia to raise money for a second restaurant, to be called “Philadelphia,” to provide a resource for women survivors. I gave happily.

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