Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ahmadinejad Speaks

It was a crazy day yesterday, what with the President of Iran here on campus and Secret Service everywhere (not to mention the po). While Columbia was being lambasted all week in the media and on blogs and comments on said blogs, it seems that everyone suddenly supported Ahmadinejad coming to Columbia to speak because PresBo ripped him a new one in his introduction of the leader. Personally, I thought that it was a bit harsh (not saying that it was not true for the most part, but the man was still a guest), but PresBo has argued before the Supreme Court, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. The campus was buzzing since 11 in the morning with protesters from both within Columbia's community and from elsewhere. I have most of the day on tape, I am just waiting for it back from CBS (we were in negotiations over the footage but the negotiations fell through). Once I clean it up a bit I will post it here.

Like I said, interesting day. I saw protesters scream at each other all day, took orders from the Secret Service to close the window I was looking out of in Hogan (which had an amazing view of where Ahmadinejad's convoy came into Lerner) via an NYPD sergeant (who was nice about it) and an NYPD captain (who was kind of a dick about it) who kindly knocked on our door and told us that they did not want to have to send the feds in, because in the words of the captain, "They do things differently." The speech itself was disappointing because the translator for Mr. Ahmadinejad was pretty awful, granted that Farsi is a difficult language to translate into English. Because of the translating issue I've yet to watch the entire speech start to finish but have heard a majority of it. As I'm sure most people are saying, the best line was Mr. Ahmadinejad's assertion that Iran has escaped the "homosexual phenomenon." Which brings me to one of my points: hearing Ahmadenijad speak without any media spin and a news anchor telling me what he said and why it is evil was really beneficial to me. To hear the man say something as ridiculous as that really puts into perspective everything else he has to say. Before this I just thought he was anti-gay (like the majority of Republicans today) but he is in absolute denial. To hear something like that firsthand - without media interference - discredits the man more than any pundit or talking head screaming about Mr. Ahmadinejad and his anti-American policies.

Additionally, the hypocrisy and/or ignorance of many of the people who were against him coming was overwhelming. First, many commenters on the Spectator's website and other websites concerning the visit denounced Columbia as a whole institution, attacking the students and anyone affiliated with the school. The invitation was sent out by President Bollinger after Ahmadinejad contacted Richard Bulliet, a professor within the university, asking for a renewal of last year's invitation, which was canceled by PresBo. Which brings me to hypocrisy point number 2. Many people have been crying foul over Ahmadinejad's invitation and the rescinded invitation to Minuteman Project founder Jim Gilchrist, including this kid. Many people said that Gilchrist was being censored and that if Gilchrist could not speak then Ahmadinejad should not be allowed to speak and that Bollinger was being an ass. This is why that argument is bullshit: Gilchrist came last year and had a chance to speak but Public Safety bungled it by not protecting him from a pissed-off crowd (the Secret Service was much more effective in keeping the crowd under control for Ahmadinejad), Gilchrist was invited this year by Dave Eisenbach, who leads a program called Friendly Fire, which is meant to get speakers together to debate hot-button issues, but had the invitation rescinded when there was confusion over whether one of the students involved in last year's brawl would debate him. The invitation was not rescinded because of Gilchrist's views, but was rescinded because there would be no counter point to his argument (which was a prerequisite for Mr. Ahmadinejad's visits). So basically we just did a reversal this year: Ahmadinejad can come, too bad for Gilchrist. Hopefully next year we'll invite neither and skip the whole mess.

Another point made by those opposed to Ahmadinejad's speaking was that the man (through Iran) sells Iraqi insurgents weapons that are used to kill American soldiers (this is per Bush and company, so I'm not exactly sold on it given their history of information gathering, oh, and this), but if this is true it certainly is wrong. However, let's look at America's history and their dealings with Iran and Iraq. To make a long story short the American government, under Ronald Reagan, sold arms to both Iraq and Iran during the Iran-Iraq War. To quote a former senior State Department official: "We wanted to avoid victory by both sides." In other words, the United States wanted the two countries to be in a perpetual war. And now we've invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and we're licking our lips looking at Iran. Just saying. So it does not make Iran's alleged arms sales to Iraq right if we did the same thing not two decades ago, but to say that Ahmadinejad should not speak because he forfeited his right when he did these alleged arms sales might not be completely accurate, because Reagan was honored as a national hero when he died and I doubt the same would be given to Ahmadinejad (nor should it be).

These are just some of the arguments that many people used to say that Ahmadinejad should not be allowed to speak here. Some pointed to the fact that he's a foreigner (no mention of citizenship requirements in the first amendment), some said he is so anti-American he should not be allowed to speak in America (I do not think I need to point out the hypocrisy of that one), etc., etc. I heard from a friend in the Office of Public Affairs here in Columbia that people were calling up and threatening to take their kids out Columbia. To that I say go ahead, deprive your child of an Ivy League education because the president of the university, who would destroy you toe-to-toe in a debate on free speech in America, decides to host a controversial speaker. Some people have refused to give money because of this. I find it ridiculous to judge a 250 year old university based on one day in its history. Don't give money to the school because of its tendency to treat its students poorly, not because of some speaker who puts his foot in his mouth when asked tough questions. And don't take this post as me supporting Ahmadinejad; the man's ridiculous viewpoints are so out-there and reprehensible I don't have time to go into it, but that does not mean that he should be denied an opportunity to speak when invited to. That's the beauty of free speech, even idiots have the right to it (insert joke about my blog here). Peace.

Photos - Top Left: President Bollinger introducing the President of Iran (edition.cnn.com), Top Left: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Columbia (www.signonsandiego.com), Middle Left: Columbia students/faculty/staff watching the speech on South Lawn (www.bwog.net), Middle Right: Protesters outside of the Columbia gates (abcnews.go.com), Bottom: As bwog puts it, the "Aftermath" on South Lawn (www.bwog.net)

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