Speakers Take Center Stage

April 1, 2007
At home in the world: DukeEngage will encourage real-world immersion experiences, such as the popular Hart Fellows program. Hart Fellow Yazan Kopty ’06, above, conducting field-based research with a community organization in Battambang, Cambodia

Rusesabagina: survivor of a country divided by hate. Jon Gardiner

Paul Rusesabagina, the Rwandan hotel manager whose story was the basis for the film Hotel Rwanda, captivated a packed Page Auditorium in February with personal reflections on the country’s 1994 genocide. He explained the background for the conflict, saying, “Why do people hate each other? Simply because they have been taught to hate each other by leaders who always divide in order to rule,” and described his experience in the hotel whose residents he protected almost single-handedly.

Rusesabagina was one of several prominent speakers at Duke earlier this year, who spoke on a wide variety of issues now in the national spotlight, ranging from religious tolerance to the global reach of art museums.

In delivering the 2007 Kenan Distinguished Lecture in Ethics in January, Jonathan Sacks, the United Kingdom’s chief rabbi, discussed the ways in which extremist religious views are threatening global society. At the center of conflicts between groups like the Sunnis and Shiites and Christians and Muslims, he said, is a lack of appreciation for shared values—values that could be explored and explicated through scrutiny of the narratives that are at the basis of the various faith traditions.

A week and a half later, retired Marine General Anthony Zinni shared his highly critical view of the Iraq war and stressed the need for more creative thinking about the future of the Middle East during the Terry Sanford Distinguished Lecture. “This argument over 23,000 troops is absurd,” Zinni said of President George W. Bush’s recent proposal for an escalation of troop numbers. “Either you fix it, you contain it, or you leave it, and none of those is going to be easy,” he added, referring to the continuing violence in Iraq. “But make up your damn mind.”

The following day, Joseph Wilson, the husband of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame, made his first public appearance since the beginning of the perjury trial of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney. In 2003, Wilson wrote an op-ed column in The New York Times saying that Iraq had no intentions of buying uranium “yellowcake” from Niger. Shortly after, his wife’s identity as a CIA operative was revealed to the press.

“You have the right and the individual responsibility to stand up to your government,” Wilson told the audience in Page Auditorium. “The essence of good citizenship is participation.”

In February’s annual Semans Lecture at the Nasher Museum of Art, Thomas Krens, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, outlined his vision for a global art museum. The Guggenheim, he said, is avidly “building a brand.” The Guggenheim brand, which began when a former auto showroom in midtown Manhattan became a gallery for modern art, has stretched to Venice, Beijing, and Bilbao, where the Frank Gehry building has provided a great boost for economic development even as it’s helped alleviate political tensions in Spain’s Basque region.

In the near future, the Guggenheim has plans to expand to Abu Dhabi in the Middle East. The ambitious project, which will involve internationally acclaimed architects, will comprise several museums that will be granted extraordinary resources for building collections. Art museums, Krens told the crowd, should be unabashedly “a force for change.”

Other prominent speakers featured on campus this semester have included Andrew Young, a top aide to the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and a former mayor of Atlanta, who spoke in Duke Chapel in honor of King’s birthday, and Lord Carey of Clifton, who as Archbishop of Canterbury from 1991 to 2002 advocated for resolutions for the ordination of women in the Church of England and against practicing homosexuality or blessing same-sex unions throughout the Anglican Communion.