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Panelists host conversation on Musharraf visit to Elon

It was an oft-repeated word on Thursday: “complex.” For three professors and two students taking part in a community conversation focused on the upcoming visit to Elon University of former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, there was no other way to describe the man’s history, or what it means for the university that he’ll be on campus as the keynote speaker at Fall Convocation.

Elon students Catherine Serex and Andrew Black were on the panel that led a Thursday afternoon community conversation about the upcoming visit of former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

With dozens of students, faculty and administrators seated around Room 215 in the Moseley Center, assistant professor Samuel A. Butler moderated the Oct. 7 conversation with speakers that included faculty members Jason Kirk and Amy Allocco, and university students Catherine Serex and Andrew Black.

Musharraf rose through the ranks of the Pakistani army and served as Pakistan’s chief executive before assuming the presidency in 2001 at a time of growing Muslim militancy. Following the 9/11 attacks and throughout the seven years he remained in power, Musharraf became one of America’s chief allies in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Panelists, however, pointed out in the forum that while some of his actions provided a foundation for civil society and a separation of political powers in Pakistan, at other times he seemed determined to undermine such essential institutions of democracy. Musharraf himself rose to power through a bloodless military coup in 1998.

Most noticeable for the panelists was the apparent lack of familiarity with Musharraf within the student body. Serex conducted a survey of about several freshmen in global studies courses, and while she acknowledged that it wasn’t a scientific sampling, she was still surprised at how few students had an opinion of the man.

“He’s a very polarizing figure.” Serex said, “but we don’t see polarization on campus.”

Assistant professor Jason Kirk of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration also took part in the conversation.

Kirk said that an opinion was one thing, but many students couldn’t articulate Musharraf's role. “This guy was on ‘The Daily Show!’” Kirk said. “What else do you have to do to make a name for yourself in this demographic?"

Musharraf visits Elon Oct. 12-13 for a series of events, including Convocation at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday and a Q&A with students at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday in Whitley Auditorium.

Eric Townsend,
10/8/2010 4:28 PM