Protests mark Ahmadinejad's visit to Columbia University
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
The Columbia University campus in New York City erupted today in protest over President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's debate with Columbia President Lee Bollinger. Ahmadinejad's presence on one of the United States' most prestigious universities brought out protesters from many causes to make their opinions known: whether Ahmadinejad should speak or not, the war in Iraq, Israel,George W. Bush, American imperialism', God and morality, all of which created a powder keg of opinions which made the air feel as if at any moment it would explode into fisticuffs.
Ahmadinejad has been widely criticized for his anti-semitic remarks and as a holocaust denier, as well as Iran's support for terrorism. He also believes that 9/11 was an “inside job”, involving Israel's Mossad or American ‘intelligence and security services.’ 9/11 family members have been loudly critical of Ahmadinejad, since last week when he requested a visit to Ground Zero to lay a wreath -- what has been widely viewed as a photo op.
The New York tabloid press splashed their covers with antagonizing headlines. The Daily News ran the headline "The evil has landed" and The New York Post labeled Ahmadinejad the "Madman Iran Prez". Since New York hosts the headquarters of the United Nations, whose charter requires that all member nations have access to the governing body, delegations of governments identified as enemies of the United States --North Korea, Cuba, Iran-- live and work in the city. At times, their governments come to address the governing body, as the Iranian President did on Monday.
Ahmadinejad's presence tore apart the usually close-knit community of students and academics that inhabit Columbia's enclave in Morningside Heights. "A high-quality academic discussion depends on intellectual honesty," wrote Columbia Law Dean David M. Schizer, "but, unfortunately, Mr. Ahmadinejad has proven himself, time and again, to be uninterested in whether his words are true. Therefore, my personal opinion is that he should not be invited to speak." The Columbia Conservative Alumni Association said "the university is extending not a courtesy, but continuing a policy of anti-Israeli and anti-American leftist nihilism under the guise of academic freedom."
Richard Bulliet, an Iranian expert at Columbia who was instrumental in arranging the visit, defended the notion that it is imperative to listen to one's enemies. "If there is any likelihood of war between the U.S. and Iran, it is important for Americans to have some access to the direct words of the president of the other country. At least they are getting Ahmadinejad's views directly from him and not a reporter who has an ax to grind."
Sunsara Taylor, a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party and a student, had a mixed view. Although in theory Taylor did not have an issue with the Iranian President's presence on campus, she had a problem with "The event without any intervention or debate from the students...is reinforcing a bad dynamic where people feel they need to choose between Islamic Fundamentalism and U.S. Imperialism. I think it's fine for him to speak, but I think it's a responsibility of people in this country not to be bamboozled into going along with a war against a country's people just because that country's leader is a reactionary."
"[Bush] is very excited about people saying we are going to attack Iran, the military option is on the table," said Columbia Languages and Culture student Sheena Shirakhon, "I think he might be offended by Ahmadinejad, but I think his bigger concern is people in this country saying we don't want a war in Iran; that makes him think his power is going to drift."
Irving Goodson (left), a public school teacher and 1969 Columbia alumn, felt it was important to hear Amadinejad: "I sympathize with people of Jewish descent. I can understand their not wanting him to be here. This may not be a good analogy, but say a person from the KKK came here advocating the extermination of blacks, I would be uncomfortable with that, but I would be interested in hearing what he had to say and in engaging him."
"He's a terrorist. Terrorists should not have a platform to speak, simple as that," said Lily Englehart. "No right whatsoever. He has American blood on his hands, and has no right to be here. We shouldn't have him here. He should have been helicoptered from JFK to the United Nations and stayed at the Iranian Consulate. No Hilton, no Columbia."
The day in pictures 
A woman with a sign made out of the cover of that morning's New York Post.
Protesters lined up and down Broadway outside Columbia.
Related news 
- "Iranian President Ahmadinejad speaks at Columbia University" — Wikinews, September 25, 2007
- "The Complete Video of President Lee Bollinger's Introductory Challenge Regarding President Ahmadinejad (along with an mnuez op-ed piece)" — , September 25, 2007
- Vivian Salama. "President Ahmadinejad Goes to Columbia" — , September 24, 2007
- "Quotes by Iran's Ahmadinejad" — , September 24, 2007
- David Schizer. "Comment by David M. Schizer, Dean, Columbia Law School" — , September 24, 2007
- Sewell Chan. "Iranian Leader, Calling Introductory Remarks Insulting, Addresses Columbia" — , September 24, 2007
- "Columbia Conservative Alumni Association Statement on President Ahmadinejad Speaking at Columbia" — , September 24, 2007
- Tim Sumner. "Just shove your wreath, Ahmadinejad" — , September 20, 2007
- "Ahmadinejad to visit Ground Zero?" — , September 20, 2007
- "Time to organize an Ahmadinejad welcoming party?" — , September 19, 2007