Al-Jazeera co-founder to speak at university


Published: Wednesday, October 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 30, 2003 at 10:58 p.m.

Offering insight into the Arab popular perspective on the U.S. occupation of Iraq, one of the co-founders of the Al-Jazeera television network will speak at the University of Florida on Oct. 28.

Omar al-Issawi, who has become a familiar face as one of the primary reporters for the Qatar-based satellite network, will address students at UF and several other universities during a three-week U.S. speaking tour this month.

Al-Issawi will speak at UF at 8 p.m. in the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. The event is free and open to the public.

He will be paid $6,500 for the speech by Accent, UF's student-run speakers bureau. On Sept. 11, Accent brought in former Bush administration press secretary Ari Fleischer.

Accent Chairman Seth Denison said he began exploring the possibility of booking Al-Issawi in the spring.

"Al-Jazeera is basically the CNN of the Arab world," Denison said. "He has a very interesting perspective to share."

Founded in 1996 with a $150 million grant from the emir of Qatar, Al-Jazeera reaches more than 30 million Arab households.

A news release said the reporter will speak about "the future of the Arab world as it relates to colonialism, imperialism and Zionism."

Anticipating that the event might spark protests, Denison said he had a meeting with representatives of several Jewish student groups to assure them the speech won't amount to Israel-bashing.

Professor Ken Wald, director of the Center for Jewish Studies, said "this is a campus that welcomes a diversity of opinion."

But Wald also said he's worried the speaker will blame Israel for the problems of the Middle East and some in the audience "will lack the historical background to evaluate the validity of what he is saying."

Al-Issawi has worked for the BBC and has reported on events around the world. In 1995, he was shot and wounded when he and colleagues came under attack in the Balkans.

Al-Issawi was born in Kuwait to Lebanese parents and attended college in Iowa and Virginia. He began his career working for FM and AM radio stations in Lebanon and worked for Net TV and Future TV in Beirut.

Carrie Miller can be reached at millerc@gvillesun.com or 338-3103.

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