Monday, September 24, 2007

The Counter Jab, Followed by An Uppercut

Today, Columbia University did the academically brave, and socially honorable thing of hosting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a question and answer session. The Ivy League university had been taking harsh criticism for the decision, seeing that relations between the U.S. and Iran have been quite adversarial, especially since the revelation of an Iranian nuclear program back in 2002. Many in the press believed Columbia should not give a Head of State that sponsors deadly and violent activity against the U.S. and our allies a platform, choosing instead to listen to his tirades from other parts of the world, then critique. Even still, there were calls for his arrest due to his government's activities. Columbia went forward with the scheduled speech, then interaction, for if serious discussion cannot be held in these halls, then where?

Columbia's President Lee Bollinger silenced his critics with his opening statement by leveling accusation after accusation at President Ahmadinejad, making sure this would be no cream-puff event. He called into question Iran's freedom of the press and expression, and labeled the president a "petty and cruel dictator". As a great center of Holocaust studies, Bollinger brought the attention to President Ahmadinejad's assertion of the validity of the World War II genocide, calling the self-renowned intellectual "either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated.” Bollinger asked Ahmadinejad to clarify his warmongering statements regarding Israel and his government's activities within Iraq and the greater Middle East.

It was exactly what he promised it would be, and he delivered: a free and open dialogue within an institution that should, at its very core, promote such a thing. The Iranian President's response was laced with religious quotes that had nothing to do with the questions before him. He avoided some questions, choosing instead to go into his usual diatribe of the Bush administration and how Iran is a "peace-loving" state. He called for "further research" regarding the Holocaust because he claimed nothing is "absolute". And he all but labeled the U.S. a terror organization because of the government's activities in Iraq, never specifically denying his own state's involvement.

Outside of stripping the king, pointing that he's naked and experiencing "shrinkage", Columbia has risen to the top as an institution that represents and personifies all that an American university should be about. It silenced its critics, but, above all, it spoke loudly for the intellectual and cerebral, who understand the world is a lot more complicated than "us" and "evil doers".

In the end, President Ahmadinejad looked small, out of place and obvious. Small in his childish complaints to Bollinger's points without ever addressing them one-by-one. Out of place because Columbia was too good for him, as evidenced by his response of his nation's treatment of homosexuals that they have no homosexuals to mistreat (hopefully, next time it will get the Ayatollah.) Obvious? Ahmadinejad doesn't run a damn thing in Iran. He's a figure-head who's only real power is that of speech, and Columbia exposed that weakness and, hopefully, redirected our focus to the real issue within that country, the religious zealots who run it.

1 comment:

Chris Meehan said...

great great great post