About 100 students huddled in a crowd, clapping and chanting “No war with Iran” while surrounding Naz Hussein. An Iraqi flag covered her back, slightly fluttering in the wind.
The 19-year-old UF telecommunication and international studies junior said she organized the protest with friends to bring awareness to the negative impacts of war in the Middle East. She said that the protest was for the general population and had no political affiliations.
“Usually when wars are fought, they’re fought on foreign soil,” Hussein said. “American citizens are not really affected by [wars], so I want University of Florida students to really consider the repercussions of this.”
Tensions between the United States and Iran are high after a U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani Jan. 3. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that Iran would take revenge.
On Jan. 7, Iran launched a missile attack against Ain al-Asad, a U.S. airbase in Iraq. Nobody was injured, according to The Associated Press.
The protest started on Turlington Plaza at 4 p.m. and ended in front of Library West at 6 p.m. Several students, Iranian and Iraqi, shared their stories and experiences with war. Other students held signs that read, “No blood for oil, no war with Iran” and “Money for schools, not bombs.”
Hussein is from Iraq and has already felt the effects of previous violence, including the invasion of Iraq in 2003, she said. She was 7 years old when she emigrated out of the country.
“The people who will end up getting hurt are innocent civilians, not the government or politicians,” she said. “They don’t care about us people.”
She urged UF students to take action against the war through protest and raising awareness.
Hussein paid homage to the victims of the Ukrainian plane crash in Iran, which killed 176 people and affected at least two UF students as well. A memorial was held Tuesday evening on Turlington Plaza.
Sara Zandy, a 20-year-old UF behavioral and cognitive neuroscience junior, helped Hussein organize the protest. Zandy said the goal of the protest was to educate students about the situation and to spread the idea of peace.
Zandy was born in the U.S., but her parents were refugees from Iraq. She said that she does not feel a real sense of community, and she misses speaking her native language.
“Now when I think of war, I think of some time and someplace distant, and this is our privilege living in America,” Zandy said. “It’s easy for us to make jokes about so-called World War III because we are the most detached from it.”
Zandy urged students to speak out against what she called the vicious cycle of war in the Middle East.
Paul Ortiz, a UF history professor, spoke during the protest about his experience with war. Ortiz said he stands with Iranians and hopes to expand the anti-war movement.
Ortiz served as a sergeant in the special forces and said he got involved with the military because he went to a poor school. He also said that there should be options for poorer students in high school other than the military.
“We never had one day where anyone came to my high school to say, ‘You could go to college,’ but we had military recruiters at my high school campus every day,” Ortiz said.
Jackie Betz, a UF alumna, attended the protest and handed out flyers that outlined what was happening in Iran and why. She does not support the war because she said it would have detrimental environmental effects and would cost too much money.
“We don’t need any more bombs, we need books,” Betz said. “War is a theft to all working people and all our children because we’ll pay for this for generations.”
Contact Meghan McGlone at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @meggmcglone.