Posted by: Staff | 10.13.2007

President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at Columbia; mixed reaction in U.S. and Iran


?Hate-mongering vitriol,? ?Hitler of Iran? and ?Madman Iran Prez? are just a few of the names that have appeared in the news lately referring to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran. He has become one of the most troublesome and noteworthy leaders in the world. Last year, Time magazine described him as ?a president unlike any other Iran has known: belligerent, na�ve?and a dark genius at mobilizing Iranian public opinion.?

Throughout his political career, Ahmadinejad has been widely criticized for his anti-semitic remarks, having previously referred to the Holocaust as a myth and called for the destruction of Israel. He speaks critically of the United States government, calling it an ?arrogant power? that has no right to try and limit Iran?s industrial and technological development. Ahmadinejad has continued Iran?s uranium-enrichment program despite countless demands from the United Nations Security Council to stop developing nuclear capabilities. Ahmadinejad has also become increasingly unpopular at home for spending too much time criticizing the West and not enough time reforming the nation?s stagnant economy.

Recently, Ahmadinejad has been under severe scrutiny because of the controversy surrounding his last trip to the United States. The Iranian President came to New York City to speak at the United Nations General Assembly and was invited to address the students at Columbia University as part of the school?s World Leaders series.

In response, the nation erupted in protest over Ahmadinejad?s invitation to speak. Given the inflammatory nature of his position on Israel, the West and his support of terrorist activities, many were incensed that Columbia would give Ahmadinejad a forum to express his views. Christine Quinn, speaker of the New York City Council said, ?All he will do on that stage is spew more hatred and more venom out there to the world.? Others supported Columbia?s decision of allowing Ahmadinejad to speak insisting that institutions of higher learning must value academic freedom and have an obligation to share differing opinions.

Despite the vociferous opposition, Ahmadinejad addressed an auditorium of students and faculty on September 18th. In his introduction, Columbia President, Lee Bollinger, addressed the concerns that the protesters put forth and reiterated that Columbia in no way supports Ahmadinejad?s actions or beliefs. Bollinger spoke of Ahmadinejad?s alleged support of Iraqi insurgents targeting U.S. troops, his government?s nuclear ambitions and his remarks about Israel. He concluded his introduction with, ?And today I feel all the weight of the modern civilized world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for. I only wish I could do better.? American rhetoric ironically runs the risk of solidifying Ahmadinejad?s shaky support at home. Many considered Bollinger?s introduction patronizing and inhospitable as he referred to Ahmadinejad as a ?petty and cruel dictator.? Ahmadinejad responded, ?In Iran, tradition requires when you invite a person to be a speaker, we actually respect our students enough to allow them to make their own judgment, and don?t think it?s necessary before the speech is even given to come in with a series of complaints to provide vaccination to the students and faculty.? In this exchange he came off as the victim, getting the better of Bollinger.

Throughout the question and answer session, Ahmadinejad carefully dodged the answers to many pointed questions that the students had submitted. However, when the moderator asked why Iran executed gays, he declared, ?In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals, like in your country. We don’t have that in our country. In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I don’t know who’s told you that we have it.? His refusal to directly answer any of the other questions that students posed made a sham of what could have been a truly intellectual debate.

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