Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ahmadinejah, at Columbia, Parries and Puzzles

Yesterday, there was an article in the New York Times headlined "U.S. Focus on Ahmadinejah Puzzles Iranians," and it was written by Michael Slackman. I was going to blog about that, but then I decided to wait until today's front page news, which is about President Ahmadinejah's speech at Columbia. However, yesterday's article was interesting in that it basically said that Iranians do not understand why Americans wish to focus on Ahmadinejah when it is not he who has the final say on many of the political and social issues in the country; it is the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is considered the commander-in-chief. However, the article admits that Ahmadinejah's actions and provocative speeches are probably the reason why he is the first thing we Americans think of when the topic of Iran comes up.

Another interesting thing that I read about yesterday actually discounted the parallels being made between Hitler and Ahmadinejah. I believe it was on Slate.com, and it said that the comparisons between Ahmadinejah and Hitler was inaccurate because Hitler did not care about what other people other than the German thought about him. Every single appearance he made was carefully staged and prepared so that there was always a sense of power associated with everything he said. However, for Ahmadinejah to thrust himself into an environment where the critics are violently opposed to him would be, in fact, stupid of him, and his image.

Which brings me to the front page of today's New York TImes. Before I read this article, the only thing I heard about his speech was that "There are no gays in Iran. That phenomenon does not exist in our country." It seemed that the constant repetition of just that one quote of his enforces our belief that he is ignorant or in denial.

Anyway, according to the article, which is by Helene Cooper, the president of Columbia, Lee Bollinger, opened the event with a "10-minute verbal assualt." Bollinger had been receiving an immense amount of pressure from the academic and public community about his invitation to Ahmadinejah, and I guess he felt the need to wave his flag patriotically to prove to his detractors that he was not, in fact, supporting the President.

I thought it was apt for Ahmadinejah to respond the way he did: "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." That was definitely a zap at Bollinger's armor.

One thing that Cooper seemed to illustrate in the article, which I thought was fantastic, was how Columbia was pushing Ahmadinejah to answer questions about Israel's sovereignty, and Ahmadinejah was responding by switching the side of the arguments over to the Palestinians' point of view. He is right; it is a major contradictation that I feel that the public sometimes forgets to explore. We focus on the Jewish plight, and their return to their homeland. But we forget that by displacing a major ethnic group, Israel has come about in the same way that Hitler once envisioned his new Germany. Just that whole thing has always made me very uneasy, and I know this opinion is not particularly popular, especially in the very fraught relations between the Islamic and international community.

Ahmadinejah said, "I ask you, is the Palestinians issue not a question of international importance? Please tell me yes or no." This was in response to the question about Iran seeking the destruction of the state of Israel, and the moderator had wished for a yes or no answer. This is a loaded question and it does not serve to illustrated the complicated nature of the Israel-Palestine conflict!

At the end, Cooper wrote about how the event at Columbia is about academic freedom, and how in some ways, we are fortunate to be able to even have that choice available to us. Such a notion would not even entertain Ahmadinejah for his country.

Just an ending note: I guess Bollinger got what he wanted, because the American Israel Public Affairs Committee indirectly praised him for his attacks in the beginning of the event by sending out his speech and calling it a "Must-Read." I guess it's appropriate that the committee would forget to also include everything that the president said. It is this sort of one-sided information that could really affect people's point of views, allowing them to form opinions that are not as fair as they could be.

Link to yesterday's article: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/24/world/middleeast/24iran.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper&oref=slogin
Link to Slate article: http://www.slate.com/id/2174602/nav/tap2/