Karzai in Philadelphia

by Nathan Hamm on 7/5/2004


As many of you know, I went to see Hamid Karzai receive the Philadelphia Liberty Medal at Independence Hall yesterday.

It was absolutely beautiful in Philadelphia yesterday and far from crowded in the city in the morning. The area around Independence Hall was entirely blocked to traffic and crawling with uniformed and plainclothes police and a healthy dose of Secret Service agents.

Philadelphia’s Afghan community was well-represented, and the one photo that I truly wish I’d been able to get was of an elderly Afghan man wearing traditional clothing and carrying one of the American flags that were given free to the crowd. Overall, turnout was light.


The invocation and benediction were performed by a local Imam. I wish I had recorded him, if only for his story of his wife’s citizenship ceremony, at which a Hungarian man expressed his gratitude to all those who had fought and sacrificed over the centuries, so that he, an old man new to this country, could enjoy the fruits of freedom.

The Mayor, whose speaking style is best characterized as entirely extemporaneous, stayed on message enough to underline that Afghanistan and the United States have a shared fight for freedom and a shared future. He also appealed for Afghanistan to receive all the support it needs to be a successful and healthy country.

Karzai’s acceptance speech was superb. Nothing underlines the impact of the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution like hearing Patrick Henry’s famous words spoken with a Pushtu accent. You can find his entire speech below.

Phillyburbs has a report on both the crowd and the speech. The Inquirer has good coverage as well.

You can listen to the speech if you prefer, but here’s the prepared remarks (he added little bits in the speech):

Statement by His Excellency President Hamid Karzai
Upon the Occasion of the Acceptance
of the

Philadelphia Liberty Medal
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
July 4, 2004

Mayor and Mrs. Street, honorable Governor and Mrs. Rendell, distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman!

I am deeply honored to receive the Philadelphia Liberty Medal, on this momentous day, commemorating the Independence of America…in this great hall…which itself is a beacon, and a symbol of freedom.

I would like to thank Chairman Meyerson and the International Selection Commission for bestowing upon me this distinct honor.

I accept the Philadelphia Liberty Medal, with pride and a humble heart, on behalf of the Afghan people. This award is the Afghan people’s award.

The Declaration of Independence, signed in this very hall, led to the founding of this great nation…the United States of America. This historic and remarkable document…was based on basic, yet fundamental, beliefs of the founding fathers of America…that “God intended Man to be free!” That “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”were inalienable rights, granted by God to all men…rights that must not be taken away.

We, the Afghan people, have also enshrined these divine rights in our new Constitution. And we will protect and defend them.

More than a year before the Declaration of Independence was signed in this hall, the great patriot Patrick Henry made a brave speech in Richmond, Virginia. His closing remarks in particular continue to resonate and inspire us today. As every lover of freedom can recall, Patrick Henry said, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

Ladies and Gentleman, Patrick Henry understood the value of Liberty. He comprehended that life without Liberty is far worse than death. As did an Afghan tribal leader.

In November 2001, when I was conducting the campaign against the Taliban, a bomb hit an Afghan tribal leader’s house and killed several members of his immediate family. A few days later, I was breaking fast with some Afghan elders, including this tribal leader, and some American officers. The tribal leader told the American officers that, “I HAVE LOST MEMBERS OF MY FAMILY… AND I WOULDN’T CARE IF I LOST MORE MEMBERS OF MY FAMILY…PROVIDED AFGHANISTAN IS LIBERATED.”

Ladies and gentleman! The Afghan people have sacrificed dearly to attain freedom. In the resistance against the Soviet occupation, and in the fight against terrorists and extremists, we lost nearly two million people. A quarter of our population became refugees. Our economic infrastructure was completely destroyed. We have tens of thousands of disabled men, women and children…and tens of thousands of widows and orphans. Ultimately, the Afghan people succeeded. With your help, we freed Afghanistan from the Soviet invasion…and with your support…we liberated Afghanistan from rule of terrorism and extremism.

As partners and defenders of freedom, both our nations are cognizant that liberty has its enemies. Where Liberty dies, evil grows.

We Afghans have learned from our historical experiences that liberty does not come easily. We profoundly appreciate the value of liberty…for we have paid for it with our lives. And we will defend liberty with our lives.

Here I quote the Afghan King of the early part of last century…King Amanullah Khan…His words in pursuit of independence.

“I will not stop seeking till I reach my heart’s desire. Either the life in me gets to my beloved or the life in me leaves my body.” For him beloved was liberty. And liberty is indeed BELOVED.

Thank you. God Bless you. God bless America and Afghanistan. God bless our two nations.

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This post was written by...

– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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