When the chairs of the student-run 2004
Symposium first convened in September 2003 to discuss
both the theme and lineup of speakers, job one was to take
the pulse of the nation. Who and what were people talking
Three subjects kept coming up: the upcoming
presidential election, Iraq and America's shifting role in
Middle Eastern affairs. Fortified with a focus, the search
for speakers could begin.
This week, the first of these prominent figures comes
to the Homewood campus.
Rend Al-Rahim, Iraq's ambassador-designate to the
United States, will give a talk, "Iraq: Today and
Tomorrow," at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 17, at Shriver
The Iraq Governing Council appointed Al-Rahim to her
current post in November. Previously, she served as
executive director of the Iraq Foundation, a Washington,
D.C.-based nonprofit organization working for human rights
and democracy in the Middle Eastern nation. She has been an
active participant in the post-Saddam Hussein transition
and recently voiced criticisms of the United States-led
occupation authority for passing over Iraqi firms in
awarding billions of dollars worth of reconstruction
Al-Rahim was born in Baghdad and became an American
citizen in 1987. A graduate of Cambridge University and
the Sorbonne, she has testified on Iraq in the U.S.
Congress and has participated as an analyst on Iraqi issues
on national television and radio programs. She co-authored
The Arab Shi'a: Forgotten Muslims, published by St.
Martin's Press in 2000.
Erica Weiss, co-chair of the Foreign Affairs Symposium
and an international studies major, said that some
controversy followed Al-Rahim's appointment because she is
an American citizen who has spent most of her adult life in
the United States.
"We thought that her perspective would be very
interesting and timely. Just how is she going to represent
Iraq to the United States?" Weiss said. "Iraq is on
everyone's minds, and we felt we needed to bring someone
here who could address this issue."
The theme of this year's symposium is InsideOut, or
inside America and looking out to the world. Co-chair Hadi
Husain said that the intention is to represent the diverse
American views on foreign policy and provide a forum for
attendees to have a dialogue with the speakers.
Now in its eighth year, the Foreign Affairs Symposium
annually brings in influential, distinguished and
high-powered individuals from the world of politics,
academia and the media. Past speakers include Ralph Nader,
Newt Gingrich, Russell Feingold, Noam Chomsky, Shimon Peres
and Sonia Gandhi.
This year's lineup includes Delaware Sen. Joe Biden,
ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee;
Democratic presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich; CNN anchor
and SAIS alum Wolf Blitzer; Pat Robertson, founder and
chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network; and Azar
Nafisi, visiting scholar at the
Foreign Policy Institute at SAIS. Nafisi has won much
acclaim for her book Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir
in Books (March 2003, Random House). The book
recollects the two years before Nafisi left Iran, a period
when she and seven young Iranian women would regularly
gather at her house to discuss forbidden works of Western
To secure the symposium's speakers, the 30-person
staff used a mix of perseverance and connections, Husain
said. The group first made a wish list and then started to
diligently work the phones and arrange face-to-face
meetings with some of their hopefuls.
Weiss and Husain said that the list of speakers could
grow, as they are still waiting to hear back from other
individuals they contacted. In keeping with the symposium's
tradition, Weiss said, last-minute additions are both
welcome and somewhat expected.
"Howard Dean can call the day before March 1 and say
he wants to speak that day, and we'll still take him,"
Weiss said with a laugh.
Both chairs said that they wanted to secure speakers
who would get both the Johns Hopkins community and public
to turn out in great numbers and that a lot of attention
this year went to selecting individuals with "draw
Husain said that with the first speaker, anyone with
just a passing interest in the United States' role in Iraq
should want to hear what Al-Rahim has to say.
"It's going to be very interesting to hear her shed
some light on what is happening both here in Washington and
in Iraq," said Husain, who is double-majoring in economics
and computer science. "She intimately knows what is going
on on both sides of the fence."
Husain said he is looking forward to seeing the
results of the group's efforts.
"I'm anxious to step back myself, to look at what
we've done and see how this all fits together," he said.
Because speakers are often added or dates changed in
the Foreign Affairs Symposium, the chairs recommend
regularly checking the series' Web site, which is