On Jan. 21, in a videoconference hosted by the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, the Georgetown University Lecture Fund and the Georgetown International Relations Club, controversial Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi will address the Georgetown community. Al-Qaddafi will speak via satellite about the state of affairs between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The move to host al-Qaddafi was criticized by Hafed Al-Ghwell, director of the Dubai School of Government, in an open letter to CCAS director Michael Hudson.

That the event has come under fire is hardly surprising. Al-Qaddafi has been accused of some of the most horrific human rights violations of any sitting head of state. Al-Ghwell claimed that CCAS and Georgetown would be giving al-Qaddafi an opportunity to legitimize these alleged crimes.

In our view, however, the decision to invite al-Qaddafi should be applauded. The event will exemplify Georgetown’s commitment to international studies. Without a doubt, there is special value in hosting one of the most polarizing figures in world politics of late – even if the views he expresses are controversial or even offensive.

Arguments similar to Al-Ghwell’s were made in opposition to Columbia University’s invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak in 2007. Campus groups protested when Chris Simcox, president of the controversial anti-illegal immigration group Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, visited Georgetown in 2006.

Different perspectives promote a sort of intellectual growth impossible to attain in the classroom. As Hudson wrote in response to the criticism, “[Al-Qaddafi] has spoken in similar videoconference format at Columbia, Oxford and Cambridge – why shouldn’t Georgetown students also have the opportunity if it is possible?”

The university should continue to honor its commitment to honest discourse by allowing discussions like these to be two-way streets. If al-Qaddafi will have free reign to address the Georgetown community, then students should have the same opportunity.

We urge students to ask al-Qaddafi the tough questions. Any chance for Georgetown students to test the intellectual rigor of a controversial world leader should be seized and promoted. There is a difference between challenging and invigorating our intellectual life and giving a random despot a platform to spew nonsense. We believe that al-Qaddafi’s virtual visit will come down on the right side of this sometimes contentious line.

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