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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University February 16, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 22
Foreign Affairs 2004: 'InsideOut'

Foreign Affairs Symposium chairs Erica Weiss and Hadi Husain said their lineup of speakers evolved from one question: Who and what are people talking about?

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

When the chairs of the student-run 2004 Foreign Affairs 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 about?

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 Hall.

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 contracts.

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 literature.

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 appeal."

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


'InsideOut': The Johns Hopkins 2004 Foreign Affairs Symposium

All events are at the Homewood campus and are open to the public.

Tuesday, Feb. 17, 7 p.m., Shriver Hall
Rend Al-Rahim, Iraqi ambassador-designate to the United States
"Iraq: Today and Tomorrow"

Friday, Feb. 27, 8 p.m., Glass Pavilion, Levering Hall
Dennis Kucinich, candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination

Tuesday, March 2, 8 p.m., Shriver Hall
Sen. Joe Biden, Democratic senator from Delaware, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Time/Date TBA
Wolf Blitzer, CNN anchor and Emmy Award-winning journalist

Wednesday, March 31 (date tentative)
Pat Robertson, founder and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network

Wednesday, April 21, 8 p.m., AMR Reading Room
Azar Nafisi, visiting scholar at the Foreign Policy Institute at SAIS


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