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A lot to talk about

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This week's tempest comes to us courtesy of Colorado's Senate Minority Leader John Andrews.

In a letter sent to prominent Jews and Israeli sympathizers around the state and country, Andrews, a conservative Republican from Arapahoe County, blasted Colorado College for inviting Hanan Ashrawi, whom he termed as "[Yasser] Arafat's propaganda mouthpiece," to give a keynote speech at a three-day symposium beginning Sept. 12.

The event, called "September 11: One Year Later," is designed to explore the question: What are the major political, philosophical and social issues facing us in the post-9/11 world?

Andrews, unfortunately, did not mention that Gideon Doron, the president of the Israeli Political Science Association, is also scheduled to deliver a keynote speech.

Nor did he fully describe Ashrawi who, while widely known as a strong supporter of Palestine, resigned in protest from Arafat's government in 1998. She is currently the founder and secretary general of the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy.

Nor did Andrews describe the broader mission of the symposium, which will include an impressive line-up of guest speakers who will tackle topics like American foreign policy, women's rights around the globe, poverty and the causes of war.

"To honor [Ashrawi] as the keynoter is a slap in the face not only to Jews and friends of Israel, but really to all Americans who object to (and are endangered by) Islamic terrorism," Andrews wrote. "There is no question that Colorado College has a right to this exercise of academic freedom, grotesque as it is. But it should be vigorously protested by all of us who have a voice, here in Colorado and elsewhere across the country, all of us who insist that the meaning of 9/11 be understood and the response to 9/11 be forceful."

Robert Fineberg, a pro-Israeli Colorado Springs resident, called Ashrawi's appearance an insult.

"What she has to do with 9/11 a year later, no one knows," Fineberg said. "In general I don't know why this group of people were invited to talk about an attack that happened on American soil."

In a letter, Lief Carter, the CC political science professor who organized the symposium, responded to the senate minority leader's concerns.

"We have asked Dr. Ashrawi and other speakers to address not the particular politics of the Middle East, but the larger problem of the human capacity for peacemaking," Carter wrote. "I can think of no better way of honoring those who died on 9/11 than to promote the kind of dialogue that can end terrorism and other forms of brutality, whoever perpetrates them."

Then on Tuesday, the Rocky Mountain News published a prominent unsigned editorial echoing Andrews' sentiments. Headlined "A propagandist comes to Colorado College," the editorial blasted Ashrawi, wondering whether she condones killing children.

That question was posed because in June, in the midst of an outburst of suicide bombings that killed dozens of innocent people, Ashrawi and other Palestinian leaders signed a much-publicized statement appealing for an end to "military operations that target civilians in Israel."

But, because the appeal did not specify the West Bank or other areas racked with violence, the Rocky deduced it "tardy and incomplete." The Denver daily suggested that "reasonable people" could interpret the statement as one that condones the murder of Jewish children on the West Bank.

"Is it OK to blow up children or not? Curious minds want to know," the editorial asked.

Which left some wondering who the true "propagandists" are.

"You ready for McCarthyism's return?" asked local peace activist Bill Sulzman. "They've smeared her pretty good."

"They are trying to reduce the debate down to A-squared instead of A to Z. They are saying there's only one way to be American; as in McCarthy's era, you have to be totally anti-communism or you're a sympathizer."

In a response opinion piece submitted to the Rocky, CC president Richard Celeste, noted the symposium is designed to "stimulate debate and provide opportunities for our students, faculty and the community at large to learn about and to judge for themselves, the causes and issues that most deeply divide people."

That kind of discourse, Celeste noted, is precisely what higher learning is supposed to be all about.

"The most critical warning sounded by the evil and damnable events of 9/11 tells us that, unless we members of the human family learn new ways to understand and fashion a common ground with one another, we shall be condemned to lives that become brutish, unreasoned and short," he noted.

It's the sort of tempest that suggests we've got a lot to talk about, don't you think?

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