While Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee were hosting a lot of the top tier Washington Post crowd and others at a dinner saluting Newsweek religion editor Lisa Miller on the publication of Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife, I was hosting a very cool crowd focused on present life in the Middle East with Al Jazeera Director General Wadah Khanfar.
Not sure how much fun the afterlife discussion was at the Quinn-Bradlee household, but Restaurant Nora’s guests last night were stirred up by Khanfar with some tough talk on the world Al Jazeera covers.
Khanfar gave a tour de force read of the tectonic realities in the Middle East today. His talk was mostly off the record at the request of the audience who wanted him to go further than what he would have said on the record. I told Khanfar that if he gave a bland, say nothing presentation that he put off the record that we would be finished, kaput, over.
He totally delivered with a provocative, mind-stretching, sometimes uncomfortable survey of Arab world dynamics and analysis of America’s engagement in the region.
Attendees last night included former State Department Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson, Congressman Brian Baird (D-WA), Bush administration Counterterrorism Adviser to the President Fran Townsend, the New York Times‘ James Risen, They Knew They Were Right author and National Interest Senior Editor Jacob Heilbrunn, Economist Washington Bureau Chief Peter David, Former Federal Elections Commission Chairman Trevor Potter, Media Matters‘ MJ Rosenberg, the Palestine Note‘s Fadi Elsalameen, former Newsweek Senior Foreign Correspondent and CSIS Global Terrorism expert Arnaud de Borchgrave, the Boston Globe’s Farah Stockman, realist Ron Steel of the University of Southern California, former USAID Deputy Administrator Hattie Babbitt, NBC’s Janet Donovan, National Public Radio’s Marilyn Geewax, Eric Melby of the Scowcroft Group, Kim Ghattas of the BBC, Nell Derick Debevoise of Tomorrow’s Youth Organization in Nablus, Palestinian-American business leader Hani Masri, the Washington Post‘s Garance Franke-Ruta, and others
For those interested, here is a video clip of an excellent presentation that Wadah Khanfar did for the American Strategy Program of the New America Foundation in July 2009.
— Steve Clemons