Zogby pushes Mideast awareness

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Tom Ackerman, [email protected]

Caucus season is in full swing for Iowans, and everyone seems to have an opinion. The American-Arab community is no exception.

The Council for International Visitors to Iowa Cities hosted James Zogby to speak Wednesday, and he urged voters to consider foreign affairs in the Middle East when choosing a candidate.

“I’m not here campaigning for anybody, but I do appreciate what it is [Iowans are] doing for the rest of us,” he said in front of a packed room in the University Capitol Center.

Zogby, an advocate for discussion on political discourse in the Middle East and the founder of the American Arab Institute in Washington, D.C., had a lot to say for the panel of front-runners.

“We have more at stake in the Middle East than anyone, and we don’t know a damn thing about it,” he said. “Almost without exception, I am profoundly disturbed with the candidates.”

Zogby said he feels candidates both Republican and Democrat are comfortable debating domestic problems, but they lack knowledge or simply don’t care about complex issues outside the United States.

He describes Middle East policy as “disruptive” for candidates, and said it “takes them out of their comfort zone.”

Nadia Doubiany, an event coordinator for the international council, said the timing of the event is beneficial for students and the community with the upcoming presidential race.

“We wanted students to be able to have access to him while he was in town,” she said. “We knew a lot of university students would be really interested in what he had to say but wouldn’t be able to afford the tickets.”

Held in two sessions, the afternoon slot was free for students and staff. The evening speech was given at a dinner as part of council’s fundraiser, known as “30 for 30,” meant to raise $30,000 for the group to have financial stability for the next 30 years, Doubiany said.

“We’ve done speaker events before, but this is the first time we’ve tried to do something more upscale. It’s more of a fundraiser than a speaker event that isn’t just for students,” she said, noting awards were given to those in the community who have helped the council along the way.

After the event for students, those who attended said they benefited from the lecture and were glad they made it.

UI student Melanie Meierotto said she appreciated the opportunity for diplomacy over violence, which Zogby discussed.

“I wish people would look at the people living in the Middle East rather than politicians,” she said. “I think we should take more time thinking about the human aspect.”

Doubiany also said that there will be several more visitors in the coming months for 30 for 30, including the deputy editor of UK’s Buzzfeed, who will be in town this week.

The Wednesday night event has an estimated 150 guests, she said, which is priced at $50 per person, or $360 for a table that seats eight.

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