I think I am the only one pleased with the way Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to this country played out. It seems that those on the political right were mostly upset with the idea he was allowed to speak at Columbia University at all. Those on the political left were unhappy that people protested against him. Jews in general were understandably upset that Ahmadinejad, accused of being a holocaust denier and someone who has been somewhat belligerent towards the state of Israel, was able to be in the country at all.
Anyone with an absolute objection to the idea of Ahmadinejad speaking at Columbia University has a fundamental misunderstanding of the reason why Universities and other institutes of higher learning exist. Even if you believe that Ahmadinejad is one of the most awful despots currently in power, the whole point of a University is to afford attendees the widest and deepest learning experience possible. Even at religious universities, students learn about evil and darkness as well as learning about those things that are good and pure. That does not mean you provide an evil person a platform all to himself or herself. I have an objection to the appearance by Christopher Hitchens at an upcoming FFRF (Freedom from Religion Foundation) conference because he will have a forum all to himself. Columbia set up an event for Ahmadinejad where he and his beliefs would be challenged by someone competent to do so, in this case, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger. I can think of no better way to teach people to recognize and deal with evil than to do so in a way like that which Columbia University did.
Make no mistake, President Ahmadinejad is an evil person although not for some of the reasons most people think. For instance, Ahmadinejad is NOT a holocaust denier, rather, and this is almost as vile, he enjoys poking his finger in the eyes of Jews worldwide by pretending to have some doubts that the holocaust happened. If one looks at the September 2006 interview Ahmadinejad had with MSNBC’s Brian Williams, it is clear that Ahmadinejad knows full well that the holocaust happened, he is simply pretending to be unsure about it in order to raise issues on behalf of the Palestinians and to irritate Jews in general and Israelis in particular. Let’s mark this as major failing and reason he is evil #1. Ahmadinejad doesn’t realize he can be a protagonist for the Palestinians without feigning a flirtation with holocaust denial or without being a Jewish antagonist. Lets look at a couple of other problems with Ahmadinejad.
Second, Ahmadinejad, in my opinion, is not seeking to create or deploy nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, he is engaged in the same sort of brinksmanship with the US regarding WMD that Saddam played and we all see where that led. Saddam’s intentional obscurity regarding his WMD that he had in fact destroyed left the world unsure about his (Saddam Hussein’s) ambitions in that regard until it was too late and left an opening for the Bush administration to exploit their war plans. Ahmadinejad’s game with the US is putting countless of his country’s citizens in mortal danger and for no good reason. Unless, as I suspect, Ahmadinejad is hoping to provoke a US attack to boost his failing support in Iran, he should accept a UN brokered deal that gives Iran free or low cost nuclear fuel to be used in reactors that cannot be used to produce bomb quality fissionable materials.
Third, like Bush, Ahmadinejad is a right wing, nationalistic and anachronistic theocrat who is at historic lows in his country’s polls. A degreed engineer, Ahmadinejad happens to be much smarter than Bush is, but that only makes him more dangerous. The dictatorial powers with which regimes govern in Iran and thus are available to Ahmadinejad probably turn Bush green with envy. Just observing Bush’s reaction to his roasting at the hands of Stephen Colbert is enough to convince me that Bush would love to throw all of his political opponents in jail and then have them executed.
Fourth, Iran’s record regarding human rights is horrific. Amnesty International’s year 2007 page on Iran notes a country with already bad human rights conditions deteriorating even further in the last few years under Ahmadinejad, see http://thereport.amnesty.org/eng/Regions/Middle-East-and-North-Africa/Iran . Of course, the US under Bush hasn’t exactly been the best example of respect for human rights. Off the top of my head what comes to mind is torture of prisoners of war, extraordinary rendition, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, attacks on Iraqi civilians, warrant-less wiretapping, the Patriot act, etc. But it is significant (if not at all satisfying) that even with this all out assault on the US Human Rights record by the Bush administration, we still look good compared to Iran. Now there is something I never thought I would say about the US and Human Rights “At least we still look good compared to Iran”, thanks for taking us down so low ‘Dubya’.
The above are plenty of reasons to protest someone and thus I am very pleased that a large group of Americans came to Columbia University to protest Ahmadinejad’s appearance. Thom Hartmann, another author at OpEdNews wrote that Columbia University showed “True American Values”. I think the whole series of events were in the best traditions of free speech, free exchange of ideas and higher education. Much was made of the Dean of Columbia University proclaiming that they would have allowed Hitler to speak. Given how most dictators are emotionally or psychologically unstable malignant narcissists or megalomaniacs or whatever the term du jour, I believe allowing a Hitler or a Mao or Stalin or Pol Pot to speak in a similar format where there was someone there to challenge them might have resulted in them being exposed for what they were long before they had chance to do real damage. At the very least, it is an instructional tool for the students to see an example of pure evil in a safe environment where the faculty are there to guide them. That is what happened with Ahmadinejad’s visit and I was happy to see it.