Ahmadinejad in New York: Iranians and others react
World Views, San Francisco Chronicle, September 25, 2007
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's appearance at Columbia University in New York on Monday continues to provoke reactions and reverberations in the U.S. and abroad.
» In Iran, the state-controlled Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reports that the heads of several academic institutions dispatched a collective letter yesterday to Columbia University President Lee Bollinger to express their sense of "outrage" at the way he publicly received his foreign guest, who had come to speak at the school's World Leaders Forum. The Iranian academic officials assailed Bollinger's "ignorance of the principle of hosting the president of Iran, a country of great civilization and a 7000-year history. "
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his speaking engagement at Columbia University in New York on Monday
Their letter stated that it was "a shame" that, at an academic institution like Columbia, "such hateful and impolite words" as those Bollinger had used to harangue Ahmadinejad even before he was allowed to speak himself had been "uttered" by the university's president. The letter noted (in IRNA's somewhat fractured, English-language translation): "It is regretful that the media owners easily elicit what they want the president of a reputable university to say in his lecture. Your statement about Iran was full of undocumented charges brought by the media and some of which were the outcome of misunderstanding which needs dialogue and closer study."
The Iranian academic officials' letter also posed 10 questions to Bollinger in response to the litany of questions with which he peppered Ahmadinejad in his opening remarks. Among the Iranians' queries:
· "Why did the U.S. media exert pressure on you to cancel President Ahmadinejad's lecture...and why did the U.S. TV networks broadcast programs for several days against the Iranian president and...not allow him to respond to the allegations? Does this not run counter to freedom of expression?"
· "Why did the U.S. come to the help of [the] Iranian dictator [the deposed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi] in 1953 and launched [sic] military coup against then Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq?"
On Monday, just outside Columbia's campus, protesters expressed their opposition to the Iranian leader's visit
· "Why did the U.S. back Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to invade Iran in 1980 and supplied [sic] him with chemical weapons to attack both Iraqi people and Iranian soldiers?"
· "Why does the U.S. administration support the [anti-Tehran, Iraq-based] terrorist Mujahideen Khalq Organization...[,] despite [the] fact that it has carried out terrorist operations in Iran since 1981?"
· "Why does the U.S. administration always support...non-democratic and military governments?"
» An Associated Press reporter in Tehran writes that, even though Ahmadinejad probably expected "a hostile grilling by the audience" at Columbia, "Bollinger's sardonic comments reflected a blatant disregard for the tradition of hospitality revered in the Middle East." As a result, the university president's remarks might end up "deflect[ing] some of the U.S. criticism he got for issuing the invitation to the Iranian president," but his strongly worded comments "could also backfire by drawing sympathy for Ahmadinejad, even in quarters where he would normally be sharply criticized."
Iranian broadcast media did not present Ahmadinejad's speech at Columbia live on Monday, but the country's state-run television service did offer a recording of the event yesterday. Commenting on his president's controversial appearance at the famous university, a Tehran resident told the AP's reporter: "The meeting and their approach showed that Americans, even in a cultural position, are cowboys and nothing more."
» Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez, who has become a high-profile ally of the government in Tehran, observed that Ahmadinejad had been "the victim of an ambush" by Bollinger at the Columbia event. (El Observador, Venezuela)
» Meir Brooks, identified as "a recent high school graduate from Haifa," penned an op-ed piece in response to Ahmadinejad's Columbia appearance that was published in the Jerusalem Post. Recalling that, in his introduction of his guest, Bollinger described the Iranian leader as "a petty and cruel dictator" and as someone who is "either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated," Brooks praised the university president's performance as "an academic and political tour de force." Brooks wrote: "The media had reported that this was [going to be] a 'speech' or 'debate,' but after...Bollinger's introduction, it became a trial." Thus, Ahmadinejad "couldn't really transform his podium into a platform of incitement, because he was now speaking as a man indicted....He is used to speaking unchallenged before crowds of thousands or tens of thousands. [At] Columbia, he was on trial before 800 college students. The situation...was demeaning, not empowering."
» J.H., a "World Views" reader from the Bay Area, wrote in an e-mail message received yesterday: "I was really offended to see how President Ahmadinejad [was] treated....This is not a way to conduct foreign policy...[or]...to move toward a peaceful solution to our problems with [his] government. His most controversial act...has been his association with Holocaust deniers. He now says...he agrees that some of the events took place. However, he made an interesting point. There have been many genocides in the history of the world, and yet this one has been used as a rationale for a new genocide, against the people of Palestine. You can disagree if you like, but it is a valid argument [that] deserves a respectful hearing, not an accusation of either lying or stupidity. His is not the only government to commit human-rights abuses, and I do not see the government of China submitted to similar public questioning....If [Ahmadinejad] was only allowed in this country...to be humiliated, I think that is a cheap and non-productive way to run our foreign policy and...indicative of a transparent and unfortunate push toward war."
Also See: The Ahmadinejad distraction, Boston Globe - September 26, 2007
For Text of Ahmedinejad's Interview with Charlie Rose (International Herald Tribune), click here