September 7, 2006
On Thursday 140 people were invited to hear former president of Iran Mohammad Khatami speak in person at UVa. More students and faculty members were able to watch live on closed circuit television. The former leader spoke through a translator, and his words certainly got people talking.
"This is a new beginning for a world marred by violence, but seeks moderation and compassion," said Khatami.
They were optimistic words from the former leader of a country for which most Americans do not have positive connotations. Student reaction to the speech was mixed.
"I do believe he offered and insightful perspective from the middle eastern standpoint," said Sarah Pittman, a 3rd year at the university.
"This is on the eve of the fifth year anniversary of 9/11," said 4th year student Michael Wain disapprovingly. "Iran is the top state sponsor of terrorism in the world today."
Several students protested by handing out and posting flyers condemning the university's decision to invite Dr. Khatami to the school. One student organizer said the former president's background speaks for itself.
"He has an absolutely atrocious human rights record and we think the university is trying to portray him as a kind of reformer," said Josh Levey, as he posted several brightly colored flyers near the Rotunda. "That's just simply not the case."
In 1999 Khatami was involved in a crack-down at the University of Tehran. Hundreds of students were arrested and tortured.
Perhaps sparking some controversy is exactly what UVa. set out to do. The sponsor of Thursday's event, the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, released a statement that read:
"Following in the Jeffersonian tradition... the institute attempts to provide a forum for addressing difficult questions in the spirit of dialogue."
Vadim Elenev, a 2nd year student, agreed. He said, "Occasionally you have to talk to people you disagree with, because that's when you really sharpen debate. When we figure out what the differences are and hopefully come to some sort of a compromise."
After leaving Charlottesville Thursday afternoon, the Khatami headed to Catholic University in Washington, D.C. where he gave a similar speech.