Monday, September 24, 2007

Ahmadinejad at Columbia

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in New York City to give a speech before the United Nations General Assembly. However, while he is in town, he has a few other items on his itinerary. He has asked to be allowed to visit Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center towers stood, but officials refused, saying that it would have been a "travesty" to give him such a propaganda coup. Never mind that, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Iran was firmly on the U.S. side against the al Qaeda terrorists; in particular, the Shia theocracy in Iran is not on friendly terms with the Sunni Wahhabbis of al Qaeda. They are in fact mortal enemies, just as Saddam and al Qaeda were mortal enemies. Not all enemies of the United States are friends with each other. (Duh!)

Bucking strong criticism, though, Columbia University invited Ahmadinejad to speak at a forum including questions submitted by students. If Ahmadinejad had any illusions of being warmly received by a sympathetic audience, he was disabused from the very start, beginning with his introduction by the president of the university. Ahmadinejad further shamed himself by spouting a series of delusional claims.

In the introduction for Ahmadinejad, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger said, "Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator." He went on to confront Ahmadinejad over his "doubts" that the Holocaust — "the most documented event in human history" — actually happened, and over his treatment of dissidents, women, and homosexuals.

On the question of the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad said that we need to question history (an entirely valid point) and that "further research" is necessary (a fatuous lie). He said, "If the Holocaust is a reality of our time, a history that occurred, why is there not sufficient research that can approach the topic from different perspectives?" And what, exactly, might those "different perspectives" be, Mr. Ahmadinejad? The "perspective" that the Jews deserved to be exterminated? The "perspective" that every bad thing in the Middle East, or perhaps even in the world, is caused by a vast Jewish conspiracy? The "perspective" that we should consider the possible role of space aliens in the disappearance of 6 million Jews? Or that it was all just smoke and mirrors to cover up something else?

The Iranian régime's record regarding political dissidents is also well documented. For starters, Abdollah Momeni, Mansour Osanlou, Haleh Esfandari, Kian Tajbakhsh, Mohammad Sadegh Kaboudvand, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Akbar Ganji, Mohammad Mohammadi-Gorgani, Ali Mohammadi-Gorgani, Ahmad Zeid-Abadi, Nezameddin Ghahari, Mohammad Mohammadi Ardehali, Ali Reza Rajaei, Massoud Pedram, Nasser Hashemi-Rad, Dr. Reza Reiss-Toussi, Dr. Hossein Rafei, Dr. Mohammad Malekei, Dr. Habibollah Peiman, Marzeih Mortazi, Morteza Kazemian, Mohammad Basteh-Negar, Taghi Rahmani, Saeid Madani, Mahmoud Omarani, Fatemeh Govaraei, Bahman Rezakhani, Shapour Bakhtiar, Mehdi Ebrahimzadeh, Dariush and Parvaneh Foruhar, and Amir Abbas Fakhravar came up in just a quick Google search. All of those people have been killed, imprisoned, or forced into exile for their political views. Applicants to university graduate programs must pass an ideological screening to ensure that they are loyal to the government. Any sort of activism, whether for women's rights, gay rights, secular government, free press, or human rights in general, is brutally repressed.

On the topic of homosexuality, though, Ahmadinejad said that in Iran, "In Iran we do don't have homosexuals like in your country. In Iran we do not have this phenomenon. I do not know who has told you we have it." The often-quoted figure of 10% of the population is in truth nothing more than a guesstimate; however, it is unmistakably clear that there have been homosexuals (as we now understand the term) in every culture, in every corner of the earth, in every era and epoch of human history back to the dawn of our species — and there will always be. On the specific case of present-day Iran, though, if there are no homosexuals in Iran, why are there such specific and detailed laws against gay sex? There are no laws pertaining to unicorns, dragons, or the Tooth Fairy, but Articles 108 to 134 of the Iranian penal code prescribe which acts are punished with mere whipping and which are punished by death. A man can be executed on conviction for sodomy, or on a fourth conviction for frottage; a woman can be executed on a fourth conviction for consensual sex with another woman.

Ahmadinejad is eternally full of self-confidence, but I think it's fair to say he got more than he bargained for at Columbia University this afternoon.

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