April 18, 2019 Speech at the NYU School of Law
The following is a speech given by Inder Comar at the NYU School of Law. Mr. Comar was given an award by the Latinx Law Students Association for Distinction in the Private Sector.
The theme for the evening, about revitalizing democracy, is one that is close to my heart. It is for me a very personal subject.
Like everyone in this room, my story began elsewhere. My parents came from very different countries, with different languages, religions, and points of view. But they also carried with them, and gave to me, a great deal of trauma that I know now is passed from generation to generation, particularly in communities of color.
My father was the survivor of a genocide. He had come to California drenched in the bloodbath of the British Partition of India. He lost everything and he came to this country to try again.
My mother and her family came to California from Durango, a city in central Mexico. They came in search of opportunity, and a better way of life.
Growing up was not easy. I didn’t know what language to speak, where to say I was from, even the name of the God I was supposed to worship. I found solace in books, and science fiction in particular. I loved reading about religion, especially about the Stoics and the Buddhists -- groups that had seemingly embraced the intellectual and the spiritual in an easy harmony. I thought if I could discover some secret alchemy, I could resolve the emotions of lost little boy, looking to find just a bit of peace in a terrifying world.
I am still searching for a place where I can heal not just from personal traumas, but the generational traumas that I carry with me, as a descendant of people who suffered greatly.
Democracy, for me, has thus become more than politics. As I have seen the incredible traumas that are perpetrated by the powerful against the weak, in the name of a drunk righteousness, I have to come to see that a real democracy -- a universal, humanist, sustainable and peaceful way of life -- must go beyond politics, and beyond ideology. A real democracy will touch us in a very personal, profound way.
At heart, democracy is about enacting a collective will, and implementing a government, that will bring out the best in ourselves, and the best in others. And the process of building that democracy will mean a process, too, of healing and restoring our shared wounds that we all have, even as we fight for a different world. Just like any other form of self-discovery, or like any type of spiritual path: democracy must be earned.
Today, we all bear witness to the use of politics as an instrument of continued and destructive trauma. We all bear witness to the camps at the border; the never ending wars; the grave international crimes committed in our name; and the domination of the poor and vulnerable by a political class empowered by racism and imperialist values.
To fight against these forces, there is the outer battle and also the inner battle. Many of us here already know what I mean by the outer battle -- seeking justice for our clients, advocating for our beliefs, working late nights and dedicating ourselves to a higher purpose. But we also must acknowledge the inner battle, the inner work we must do, if we wish to see democracy ascendant one day. And the core component of that inner work is courage: the courage to believe in ourselves and our missions, the courage to stand up to power, and the courage to have faith -- a deep, deep faith -- that the world can be different.
When I set out to build my private law firm, I tried to act on courage, and to act on faith. I wanted the freedom and the independence to work on human rights issues that would not otherwise have a voice. I could not have advocated for Iraqis and their annihilated homeland, or sought justice for the terrible Iraq War, if I had done things in a traditional way.
Building democracy must start with this inner battle: with the cultivation of a great courage, and a great faith. In an age of forever war; of climate breakdown; and of the Sixth Great Extinction; I know that things seem hopeless. But I am here to tell you that courage and faith are limitless wells. They will never run dry. Our shared journey to the society we want, to the democracy for which we all hunger, is not just a journey of law. It is and must be a journey of courage and a journey of faith -- for each one of us.
In the fight for democracy, we will act as warriors, but we will also act as healers. Both energies are needed. Orwell described tyranny as a boot on a man’s face. I would describe it as the image of a small child, in tears, ripped from their parents by men with guns. And whether the image in your head right now was of a detention center at the border, or a death camp in Poland, or a slave market in Virginia -- let us work to put an end to that image so that maybe there is at least one child who will not have to feel such trauma; who will not have to be so lost. Breaking this cycle of trauma, giving people the chance to heal -- giving them a chance to be their best -- this is the essence of a democratic way of life. This is the essence of our shared struggle.
We can live in a world where nations settle their differences through dialogue; where the defense of human rights is the mainstay of every government; where economic, social and cultural resources are provided to all who need them; and where we live in harmony with the ecological limits of our planet. This is a world that exists, which can be built.
Have faith that this world can be built.
Have the courage to work for it.
Remember that the journey towards democracy may take years, decades, perhaps even generations. Like Moses, you may only get to see the promised land, but not enter it. But never doubt the outcome. Never doubt the ultimate victory of democratic norms, and democracy, as the guiding light of human civilization.