Libyan Head of State Incites Controversy at Georgetown

The Center for Contemporary Arab Studies came under fire last week by a former World Bank executive for planning to host controversial Libyan leader Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi at an upcoming video lecture.

In an open letter to CCAS director and School of Foreign Service Professor Michael Hudson, Hafed Al-Ghwell, the former manager of the Public Diplomacy and Information Center at the World Bank Group in D.C. and current director at the Dubai School of Government, argues that the lecture will legitimize the past actions of al-Qaddafi – including public hangings, forced exiles, home demolitions and abuse, according to Al-Ghwell.

Al-Qaddafi has conducted open interviews with western media networks and openly met with then-Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2004. The U.S. government has officially revoked Libya’s status as a state sponsor of terrorism and reopened full diplomatic relations with the country.

Al-Qaddafi, who is slated to address members of the Georgetown community in the Intercultural Center Auditorium via satellite on Jan. 21, plans to speak about the proposed solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as outlined in his “White Book.” The Libyan leader calls for the incorporation of both Israel and the Palestinian territories into a single federalist and republican state.

According to Hudson, CCAS was approached a few months ago by a Libyan research institute to host al-Qaddafi. The Lecture Fund and the International Relations Club then signed on as co-sponsors.

“The Center’s Faculty Executive Committee discussed the offer and the pros and cons of having one of the most controversial – and to many, despised – rulers in the Middle East appear (albeit electronically) on our campus,” Hudson wrote in an e-mail. “We believe that we are contributing to the educational experience of Georgetown students by giving them the opportunity to hear controversial speakers and judge for themselves. [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?”

Al-Ghwell’s distributed his letter of protest to over 1700 members of Libya Monitor, a blog that follows the oppression of Libyan citizens.

“To invite him to speak about his completely discredited and imbecilic idea of `Asrateen’ – one of many – which he put together in this so-called `White Book,’ and which [CCAS] plan to distribute in the event, is an insult to the intelligence of the Georgetown community and the sensibilities of those in both the Arab and Jewish communities,” Al-Ghwell wrote in his open letter.

According to Hudson, inviting al-Qaddafi to speak is neither justifying nor honoring his actions. Rather, he said he hopes to offer students a chance to interact with an international head of state and ask him tough questions.

In order to support the lecture, CCAS has accepted funding from the Exxon Mobil Corporation. After evaluating the cost of the event, which includes satellite rental, an Arabic-English interpreter and simultaneous translation equipment, Hudson said CCAS approached one of its regular corporate sponsors for funding, Exxon Mobil, which he said has a long-standing relationship with the center. In 2007, the company gave CCAS $25,000 for the purposes of “public information and policy research,” according to a company report on Worldwide Contributions and Community Investments.

Al-Ghwell also expressed anger that CCAS is requiring all questions to be screened in advance.

“If the objective is to have an honest discussion within an academic environment, then Qaddafi should have the courage to accept and answer questions without hiding behind a veil that is meant to shield him from tough questions,” Al-Ghwell said. “The center should insist that all those who wish to ask questions be allowed to do so freely and openly.”

According to Hudson, CCAS is working with the vice president for student affairs, the Department of Public Safety and the SFS dean to create a way to allow for maximum participation while avoiding potential disruption of the meeting. Questions will be submitted to a small panel, who will select which ones to ask. According to Hudson, this is a standard procedure for high-profile events.

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