Cambridge debating society stands firm on Dominique Strauss-Kahn invite


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The Independent Online

The Cambridge debating society has issued a robust defence of its decision to invite Dominique Strauss-Kahn to address students ahead of his controversial appearance at its union tonight.

It follows calls to "disinvite" the former chief of the International Monetary Fund, whose hopes of becoming the French president were ended when he was accused of sexually assaulting a maid in New York last year.

Campaigners are expected to gather tonight in protest against his appearance which, they claim, displays a "callous desire" by the student body to "exploit gender crime allegations in the service of controversy".

In a firmly-worded response to an open letter which accused it of seeking to titillate its members, the Cambridge Union Society said: "We must state that the Union will not be rescinding its invitation to Mr Strauss-Kahn.

"The Society has been inviting him to address our members for several years, given his economic knowledge as then head of the IMF, and his experience of French politics.

"He was not invited after or as a result of the circumstances surrounding his departure from the IMF.

"We would like to add that the purpose of the Union is to provide a neutral platform for free speech."

Insisting that its invitation did not imply "support or endorsement" for Mr Strauss-Kahn, it said speakers were selected "regardless of their ideology, background or personal history".

And it said individuals were chosen if they were deemed to be "interesting people whom our members would want to hear speak and whom they would like a chance to challenge and question".

"We feel Mr Strauss-Kahn is exceptionally well qualified to speak on some of the most prominent international headlines of 2012, namely the global financial crisis and the French Presidential election, and so we believe he will give a pertinent and interesting speech," it added.

The announcement that Mr Strauss-Kahn would address the society sparked a furore last month and led hundreds of students to sign a petition in protest.

In its open letter calling for his invitation to be withdrawn, the Cambridge University Student Union Women's Campaign wrote: "Numerous charges of attempted rape and sexual assault should give the Union Society pause for thought when administering their speaker invitations.

"Yet conversely, the Union Society appears to have invited DSK because of the combination of his former economic position and alleged criminal notoriety.

"Does the Union Society see allegations of attempted rape and sexual assault as titillation for its membership?"

The letter noted with "bitter irony" that his appearance would come the day after International Women's Day, and added: "At worst, the invitation betrays an abhorrent disregard for the many survivors of sexual violence amongst the student body."

Mr Strauss-Kahn was released from a French police station in February after being questioned over a suspected hotel prostitution ring.

Judicial officials said he would be summoned again by judges who will decide if there is enough evidence to press charges.

Charges were dropped in the New York case.

The Cambridge Union Society anticipates a high level of attendance at tonight's event and demand for places was expected to exceed the capacity of the union building.