Yesterday, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University. A previous speech that was to take place last year was canceled for "security and logistical reasons."
The President of Columbia University, Lee Bollinger, and the rest of Columbia University came under scorching criticism for allowing the controversial leader to speak.
"I didn't expect Lee Bollinger to say Ahmadinejad is a moderate or he's been misunderstood," City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said. "The forum he provided is the issue. He and his university gave this hate monger an opportunity to speak on one of the most prestigious stages in all the world." (From AP via Yahoo).I, for one, applaud the decision. I believe that bad ideas are like vampires; they don't survive exposure to light. I only saw clips of his speech here, but I thought it was interesting. When confronted with his "denial" of the holocaust, he said that he didn't deny it happened, only that he disagreed with what had happened to the middle east since, and that the holocaust did not justify the displacement of the Palestinians (i.e., the creation of the state of Israel).
Fair Point. You might not agree with it, but it's a fair point.
My favorite part though, was when he was asked about homosexuals in his country. Ahmadinejad denied that ANY homosexuals existed in Iran. The crowd erupted in laughter, as I would. In that one instant, he was transformed from some diabolical world leader into just a bigot in denial. And THAT is the power of the free-exchange of ideas.
I don't think Lee Bollinger's introduction (wherein he called some of Ahmadinejad's ideas "ridiculous" and the man himself a "petty and cruel dictator") was really appropriate given that he was the moderator, as opposed to an opponent in a debate. However, given the amount of negative publicity about his decision to even allow Ahmadinejad to speak, I understand why he chose to lead with how he disagreed with the man, but that he still allowed him to speak.
So I agree with Ahmadinejad's rebuke that it wasn't really appropriate to introduce a speaker in a way to immediately put him on the defensive and that the students should make up their own mind. He called this "Iranian tradition." I think a few political prisoners and former newspaper owners who would disagree that it is Iranian tradition to allow free speech.
Ahmadinejad also took spontaneous questions from the audience. Something I wish OUR president (who was so quick to criticize the University's decision to allow the Iranian President to speak) would do. Cuz I think our President has some pretty stupid ideas that I wish would see the light of day in an open forum.
So again, in allowing him this forum, a lot of this man's ideas, that would otherwise stay hidden behind unchallenged statements in other forums, come to light. I just found the whole thing on Youtube, so I'm going to watch it all for context I think:
Ahmadinejad Speech Part 1: Wow, that's a lot of God talk. I guess this shows the big difference between our two cultures. I think he's trying to be relevant to Christianity? Some of this "science and religion are able to co-exist" talk sound sort of similar to christian fundamentalist yet apologetic creationists.
Ahmadinejad Speech Part2: Oh man, more God stuff? This is why I don't go to church, mosque, or temple. No wonder the highlights from this were so short. Science is illuminating? Didn't he say this already? Oh God, this is painful.
Ahmadinejad Speech Part3: Ok, I agree that Bush's wiretapping domestic citizens does create fear, but this is coming from the guy who runs a country that shuts down opposition newspapers and arrests people for their political views. Now he's talking about the misuse of science and alluding to nuclear capabilities. I think I know where this is going....
Ahmadinejad Speech Part4: Here it is. The nuclear powers have strayed from science and the teaching of the profits by not allowing countries to develop nuclear capability. Palestinian refugees were created by the creation of Israel. ooh, here we go.... He did say that the holocaust was a "historical event" so I don't know how people can say that he "denies" its existence. He says he wants to research it from "different angles." Not sure what that means. Now he says he wants to study its "root causes," that's fair. And now why should the Palestinians pay the price for the holocaust when they didn't have anything to do with it? I think that is a fair point.
Iran is a member of the IAEA and now he's citing their bi-laws and saying their reports say that Iran is pursuing peaceful nuclear energy. I don't think the IAEA agrees with that.
Ahmadinejad Speech Part 5: Now he is making it an issue of independence and self-determination. Now questions: "Do you seek the destruction of Israel?" Answer: "We love all nations" and how jews live in Iran and are represented in the government. But he says Palestinians have the right to self-determination. But the interviewer wants a yes or no answer. Ahmadinejad bristles and says that now the moderator wants to hear the answer he wants to hear, and retorts with his own "Is the Palestinian issue not an international issue of prominence? Yes or no?"
Now, in response to whether Iran supports terrorists, he says that Iran is actually a victim of terrorism.
Ahmadinejad Speech Part 6: Now, "why do you want to research the holocaust more?" He answers, "why do you want to stop?" "I'm not saying it didn't happen"
Now a question about Iranian women and their rights. "Women in Iran enjoy the highest degree of freedom." Wow. "There are hundreds of women scientists in the biotechnology field." Wow, hundreds.
"We don't have homosexuals in our country" BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!
"It's not a crime to be a women" Uh oh, this is getting bad.
Ahmadinejad Speech Part 7: Question about the nuclear program. What are you seeking? Only to provide fuel to power plants. He again accuses the world powers of wanting to monopolize science. Not much more.
Moderator makes one last quip about how Ahmadinejad didn't have time to answer some questions, and didn't answer some of the questions posed to him. Wow, that never happens here. I think that was a rather lame an ungracious last word to get in.