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Ahmadinejad speaks out

By Denebola
Published: October 2007
By Bill HumphreyOn September 24, 2007, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the intensely conservative President of the Islamic Republic of Iran came to Columbia University to speak. His visit was met with much outcry because of his many controversial statements and policies in the two plus years he has been the civilian head of Iran.President Ahmadinejad has greatly expanded Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, possibly for weapons, creating concern in the west. But more controversial than the nuclear program, in terms of his Columbia visit, Ahmadinejad has made some very critical, if not outrageous statements about and against Israel. He has also questioned the historical truth of the Holocaust’s occurrence. There remains some debate as to whether, when translated correctly, he actually called for Israel to be “wiped off the map, but he is not pro-Israel by any standard.
Ahmadinejad arrived in New York for a United Nations conference to speak at Columbia University and sparked an uproar. Columbia maintained that he should have a right, under our constitution, to free speech. The counter-argument ran that just because he has that right, does not mean he deserves a soapbox. Finally, Columbia introduced him with some scathing remarks about his record as president to allay some concerns.
Even if one disagrees with Ahmadinejad’s viewpoints or handling of certain issues, there is a large difference between publicly criticizing him and inviting him to speak while ungraciously insulting him to his face. Why invite him to speak, if you plan to call him “a cruel and petty dictator to his face? No matter how true the statement might be, it’s hardly surprising that he stood there in stunned silence for a few moments.
The protestors outside were even more foolish. There is another distinction between protesting Ahmadinejad’s policies and protesting his opportunity to speak. The simple reason is that it is hypocritical to criticize his suppression of free speech in Iran, while attempting to prevent him from speaking here. That reinforces perceived double standards in US foreign policy.
On October 8, Iranian students began protesting Ahmadinejad at Teheran University, over which he has tried to extend control. As the police began beating the protestors, they screamed that if he could speak at Columbia, they could speak at Teheran. We have no moral authority to criticize this “petty dictatorship when we have people outside protesting his right to speak.
Finally, Ahmadinejad was mainly expressing his own rather extreme views, and not the views of Iran as a whole. A majority of Iranians do not, and never did support his extremist views. He was fairly obscure at the time of his election, and many of his supporters have given up on him because he has brought so much criticism upon Iran and caused nuclear brinksmanship threats. The average young Iranian is reasonably pro-American, wants more relaxed Islamic laws, and disagrees with their leader’s rhetoric and nuclear policy. Most Iranians are angry that he has created chaos in the economy, caused rises in fuel prices, and enforced sanctions that hurt business. Last year, Ahmadinejad-backed candidates lost badly nationwide, showing that most Iranians were fed up with him. The clerics, also irritated with him, recently elected a moderate head of their council to counteract him.
Therefore, it was important to let President Ahmadinejad speak at Columbia University, and he should have been more graciously received. By letting him speak freely, we know more about his, uh, interesting opinions, we display less hypocrisy, and we set a good example on how a democracy should work.

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