Five hundred people lined up outside the American Repertory Theater beginning two and a half hours before the event to hear from the noted South African social justice advocate. Hundreds more were turned away at the door.
Tutu’s talk, entitled “Goodness Triumphs Ultimately,” denounced current American foreign policy and stressed the importance of the United States’ position as a global leader.
While Tutu counted the U.S. as a strong ally in the fight against apartheid, he has been critical of American foreign policy during the Bush administration.
“You taught us no government worth its salt can subvert the rule of law. We believed you,” Tutu said at a gathering of Nobel laureates last year, according to The Washington Post. “That’s part of what you have as a gift for the world. Then how can you commit Guantanamo Bay? Take back your country.”
The crowd at yesterday’s talk appreciated Tutu’s message.
“He’s incredible. The zeal, the way he speaks—he could sell toilet paper and you’d want to buy it,” Libby A. Cunningham, a student at the Harvard School of Public Health, said.
“He was just so affable, he addressed the management of world affairs but with a real personal touch,” Brian S. Reale said.
“I think he inspired faith in the possibility of progress in a sometimes confusing world,” Utpal Sandesara ’08 said.
Sandesara added that, while the talk was motivational, he felt Tutu somewhat over-simplified the dichotomy between justice and injustice. He cited Tutu’s attempt to explain the current situation in the Middle East in terms of absolute good and evil.
“His framework is a very different one,” said Yinliang He ’08. “It’s beyond argument and counterargument. It’s theologically based.”
Outside the Loeb, a handful of protesters held signs denouncing Tutu and accused him of being “an imperialist.”
Tutu is here for the two-day conference of Weatherhead Center alumni fellows called “The Search for Solutions to the World’s Intractable Problems.”
“Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s opposition to apartheid, his commitment to stopping AIDS and treating its victims, his advocacy of inclusiveness for his church, and his dedication to peace distinguish him as one of the most significant social figures as well as humane individuals of our time,” Beth A. Simmons, director of the Weatherhead Center, said in a press release.
“I think it was very fitting and appropriate that Desmond Tutu was chosen and invited to be the keynote speaker,” Kathleen S. Molony, director of the fellows program at the center, said after the talk. “It was a great launchpad for our whole conference.”