A Columbia University discussion on democracy in the 21st century that included an hour-long speech by the dictator of Libya was co-sponsored by an institute named after his manifesto, which states, "All existing forms of government are undemocratic."
In the manifesto, called "The Green Book," Muammar Gadhafi goes on to write that "the masses struggle to eliminate the various forms of existing dictatorships," which include "one-party, two-party or multi-party systems of government, which all inappropriately call themselves democracies."
During an hour-long speech delivered via satellite at "The Prospects for Democracy" conference, Mr. Gadhafi explained violently cracking down on political opponents, saying, "In our countries, the opposition takes the form of explosions, assassinations, killing," he said, according to the AP.
Audience members received the dictator "politely," the dean of the university's School for International and Public Affairs, Lisa Anderson, who moderated the event, said. She said his remarks are "what you would expect from the author of 'The Green Book.'"
The two-day conference was co-sponsored by the university, The Green Book Center, the D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, and al-Fatah University in Libya.
The Libyan government paid for the housing and travel costs of their academics, plus the cost of Mr. Gadhafi's satellite call, which Ms. Anderson characterized as common for such events. She denied a suggestion made by the National Review Online that there may be a financial arrangement between the Libyan government and the university. "No way. No way," Ms. Anderson said.
Copies of "The Green Book" were available in English at the Low Memorial Library, courtesy of the Libyan government. Two other books described as academic supplements to "The Green Book" also were available, but only in Arabic. "The solution to the problem of Democracy," Mr. Gadhafi writes, is a direct form of government he calls the People's Conference.
Mr. Gadhafi, who came to power in a 1969 coup and was known to have supported terrorist groups worldwide, wrote that participants in democracies "move silently towards the ballot box, like the beads in a rosary, to cast their votes in the same way that they throw rubbish in dustbins."
Ms. Anderson said she hoped the conference marked the beginning of a "scholarly collaboration" between the American and Libyan academic communities.
The university advertised the event as featuring the first major delegation of Libyan scholars to visit an American institution in 25 years. The State Department denied without explanation visas for several Libyan academics invited to the conference, Ms. Anderson said. Calls for comment to the State Department were not returned.
Nevertheless, Ms. Anderson said Mr. Gadhafi's participation had the blessing of the American government, pointing to the visas granted to numerous Libyan academics and the participation at the event of an assistant secretary of state, David Welch. Also participating were members of Human Rights Watch, a political science professor from Hunter College, Libya's deputy minister for foreign affairs and cooperation, and about 50 other academics, according to the university.
"If the State Department felt this was inappropriate in any way, they would have expressed this to us in some way," she said. "I think it's really important that American students and the larger community get exposed to people we don't agree with. And I feel very strongly about that. If we only talk to people we agree with, we won't know what the threats out there are, whose opposing us."
Mr. Gadhafi's involvement in a university-sponsored discussion comes amid renewed efforts to hold him accountable for terrorist activities. A lawsuit to be filed next month in a U.S. court will seek millions of dollars in restitution to families victimized by the Irish Republican Army, for whom Mr. Gadhafi was a key arms supplier. The Libyan government already has paid $2.7 billion for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 270 people. Another $170 million was paid to families of the 170 victims that died when a French airplane was bombed in 1989.
Steven Cook, author of "In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How," did not attend the event but said, "Needless to say, Gadhafi doesn't have a strong track record on democracy."
When asked what impact the conference may have on Libya's reputation, Ms. Anderson said, "It didn't hurt." She dismissed the notion, though, that it gave Mr. Gadhafi legitimacy. "We're not in the business of thinking about that," she said. "I hope we have continued relations with the Libyan academic community. That's good for us and good for them."