Ahmadinejad’s Comments @ Columbia
One of the lighter moments of Ahmadinejad’s empty speech was when he said there were no gays in Iran. People laughed at first, thinking he was joking, but when they realized he was serious the mood changed. Here’s why he said that:
Otherwise, the speech was pretty much what I expected it to be: a trite, post-colonial critique of American and Western “imperialism” with very little actual dialogue and instead, lots of propaganda lines that Ahmadinejad had repeated many times before at other venues.
The event was largely meaningless and a political spectacle which allowed both Bollinger and Ahmadinejad to score political points with their constituencies, but accomplished nothing other than to give Ahmadinejad a platform for ideas which deserve none.
I wholly agree (and unusually so) with Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, who wrote that some people (like Hitler) are impossible to reason with.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE SPEECH/DISCUSSION:
The following is a synopsis of highlights from Lee Bollinger’s comments and the main speaker’s speech as well as the following written, question and answer period.
Responding to tough political pressure from critics both in the university and outside who had denounced Columbia’s decision to allow Ahmadinejad to speak, Lee Bollinger, President of Columbia, bluntly attacked the previous statements of Ahmadinejad and the policies of the government of Iran. He called on Ahmadinejad to answer these charges.
Bollinger addressed all the major concerns about Iran and its president, including the crackdown on academics and journalists and the imprisonment of a Columbia grad. He called on Ahmadinejad to ensure the freedom of academics and others, and also suggested that Iran allow a group of Columbia scholars and students to speak at an Iranian college, openly and freely, as Ahmadinejad had been allowed to speak.
His critique became increasingly pointed, and he said at one point that the actions of the Iranian regime made Ahmadinejad seem like a “cruel and petty dictator”. Bollinger attacked Ahmadinejad’s inflammatory comments about the Holocaust being a fabrication, and the need to “wipe Israel off the map”. He said that, “you held a two-day conference of Holocaust deniers. For the illiterate and ignorant, this is dangerous propaganda. When you come to a place like this, this makes you, quite simply, ridiculous. You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated.” He asked him if he would stop these outrageous comments.
Next Bollinger questioned Iran’s funding of terrorism, asking “Why do you support well-documented terrorist organizations that continue to strike at peace and democracy in the Middle East, destroying lives and civil society in the region?” Bollinger followed by questioning reports that Iran was funneling weapons to Iraq. He asked, “Can you tell them and us why Iran is fighting a proxy war in Iraq by arming Shi’a militia targeting and killing U.S. troops?”
His final question concerned Iran’s nuclear program. He asked, “Why does your country continue to refuse to adhere to international standards for nuclear weapons verification in defiance of agreements that you have made with the UN nuclear agency? And why have you chosen to make the people of your country vulnerable to the effects of international economic sanctions and threaten to engulf the world with nuclear annihilation?”
He ended by saying that he doubted that Ahmadinejad would have the “intellectual courage” to answer the questions, but said that his silence on the questions would be telling. Bollinger said that he hoped he had adequately represented the revulsion of the civilized world. He sat down to rousing applause.
Rising to stand after Bollinger’s remarks, Ahmadinejad faced a hostile crowd. He began by complaining that guests in Iran would not receive such a rude welcome, and he said that Bollinger had colored the views of the audience before Ahmadinejad had been allowed to speak.
Then he launched into a long invocation of learning and progress as a noble, Godly path. In a veiled reference to the US and negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, he hinted that some countries in the world were attempting to monopolize knowledge and research.
In his remarks later, he defended the rights of Iran to pursue a peaceful nuclear program, a right guaranteed by the IAEA he said. Ahmadinejad said that no country had been subjected to as many inspections as Iran had. He reiterated that Iran had no interest in a nuclear bomb, and called America and other countries hypocritical for their criticism of Iran’s peaceful nuclear program when the US was testing a new generation of atomic weapons.
On the issue of terrorism, he said that Iran was a victim of terrorism, not a perpetrator of terrorism. He said Iran had been the subject of the assassination of its democratically elected leaders by terrorist, foreign powers, and that only in the Iranian Revolution of 1979 had justice been restored. He said some powers continued to oppose Iran’s progress and this new justice, but Ahmadinejad said that people in the Middle East knew which powers really supported terrorism, hinting that it was the US and other countries that were the real state-sponsors of terror.
In the question and answer period, he was asked about statements he had made on the Holocaust. He replied that he did not think sufficient research had been done about the end of World War II, asking why the Palestinian people should have to pay for a disaster that occurred in Europe. He said the Palestinian issue had continued for 60 years with no resolution.
When asked if Iran sought the destruction of the state of Israel, he replied that the Palestinian people should be allowed to choose the fate of Israel in a vote or referendum. When pressed again on the question for a yes or no answer, he replied with a question, refusing to give a direct answer to the question, but instead said that Iran had no problem with Jews and that there were many Jews living peacefully in Iran. He did not address the question of Iranian-Israeli tension.
Another question from the audience concerned Iran’s treatment of homosexuals and women. Ahmadinejad said that, “In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon,” referring to homosexuals. This aroused both laughter and booing from the audience. He continued saying “I do not know who has told you that we have it. But as for women, maybe you think that maybe being a woman is a crime. It’s not a crime to be a woman. Women are the best creatures created by God. They represent the kindness, the beauty that God instills in them. Women are respected in Iran.” He did not directly address the question.
A question posed from the audience asked why Ahmadinejad had wanted to come to Columbia, what he hoped to accomplish, and what would he have said if he had been permitted to visit Ground Zero.
He responded by saying that it was regrettable that certain groups had strong reactions to his visit to Ground Zero, and that he had wanted to visit last year but could not due to his schedule, so he tried to visit this year. He said he wanted to honor the memories of the victims of 9/11.
Ahmadinejad then closed his speech by saying that he was invited to speak at Columbia and that is why he had come. He then extended an invitation to Columbia students and faculty to visit to an Iranian institution of higher learning in return.
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