Doing disservice to democracy 

As a human being, an American, a person of Palestinian descent, and a student at Colorado College, I am deeply disturbed at the attempt by Colorado's Jewish leaders to silence one of the foremost Palestinian advocates of democracy, dialogue, human rights, women's equality, and Palestinian-Israeli coexistence, whom they label as a terrorist supporter.

Their bullying, smearing tactics, and the ever-present politically intimidating charge of anti-Semitism renders an otherwise ordinary campus event (whose subject has little to do with Palestine-Israel anyway) suddenly controversial, its organizers forced to defend their choice of keynote speaker, Hanan Ashrawi.

Suddenly, academic freedom, open dialogue and the exchange of views, so vital to democracy, have all become tarnished by the aggressive mischaracterization of the symposium and character assassination of Dr. Ashrawi.

The plain fact is Dr. Ashrawi, who is educated in the finest tradition of liberal humanism (she holds a doctorate in comparative literature from the University of Virginia), is the antithesis of terrorism.

Her education and background, having witnessed firsthand man's inhumanity to man, make her a passionate and insightful observer of the human condition.

In 1993, she was one of the founders of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizen's Rights and is also currently a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council for Jerusalem. In 1998, however, Ashrawi resigned from the Palestine Authority government in protest against political corruption.

At the same time, she founded MIFTAH -- the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy. MIFTAH's mission is to "foster the principles of democracy and effective dialogue based on the free and candid exchange of information and ideas."

Colorado College has maintained that the goal of the symposium is to "promote the kind of dialogue that can end terrorism and other forms of brutality, whoever perpetrates them," and Dr. Ashrawi is more than capable of addressing the complex issues of 9/11 in a sensitive and intelligent manner.

Those who are leading the attack are doing a disservice to themselves, to Israel, and to no less than the liberal ideals humanity holds dear.

It is to articulate and effective people like Dr. Ashrawi that American and Israeli Jews alike should look for reconciliation and reason. Certainly, many Israelis do.

She represents the moderate mainstream of Palestinian opinion. How the goals of this mainstream -- the withdrawal of Israel from Palestinian occupied territories including Arab East Jerusalem and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in coexistence with Israel -- are extreme or advocate terrorism defies understanding.

But it seems opponents are myopic and self-righteous. They are doing Israel harm by effectively protecting the extreme right that now governs Israel under Ariel Sharon. Surely, neither side in this tragic conflict is innocent and both sides have equally valid political, historical and moral claims. However, the Palestinian narrative, by and large, has been ignored by the American media that, more often than not, manages to reduce them to subhuman terrorists and their tormentors as righteous.

As a woman of Palestinian ethnicity, I am keenly aware of the insecurity and hardship that ordinary Israelis have to endure at the hands of extremists. Also, the appalling devastation and massive human rights violations committed by Israel against the Palestinian people under Sharon, whose overseeing of wholesale state terrorism would surely elevate him to a war criminal, is common knowledge to the rest of the world.

Israel's survival depends on justice, on accepting the Palestinian people's aspirations for freedom, on realizing that more repression will only elicit more terrorism.

But I see no change anytime soon in the pressure and lobbying tactics of American Jewish leaders, who seem to be determined to silence moderate individuals who also happen to be effective spokespersons for the rights of their people -- even when Dr. Ashrawi has a symposium counterpart in Dr. Gideon Doron, president of the Israeli Political Science Association.

The most constructive actions that Colorado's Jewish leaders and other opponents can take is to support Colorado College's very well-conceived and organized symposium that asks its participants to reflect on the major issues affecting humanity's goals to construct a world free of poverty, political repression, and terrorism.

Rasha Khalaf is a senior at Colorado College. Ashrawi is scheduled to deliver a keynote address on "Global Realities and the Prospects for Peace" on Thursday, Sept. 12.


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