Columbia University was at the center of heated debate and protest last week when it hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. With the Bush administration voicing its concerns about Iran for some time, I was highly interested in hearing what one of the remaining leaders in Bush’s “Axis of Evil” had to say for himself to the general public.
When I turned to a local newspaper to read what Ahmadinejad had said at the lecture, though, I found an AP article that appeared more interested in relaying the comments made by the president of Columbia. The piece, moreover, pointed to the most absurd comments made by the visiting politician.
After reading the article, I felt that an important event was receiving the same recap treatment a football game would. I understand that Ahmadinejad is not going to win an international man of the year award, but I found it odd that the article would reduce the entire affair to a comment on homosexuality, a slap at the United States for its nuclear weapons and a denial of the Holocaust. So I searched online for a complete transcript.
After I found and read it, I couldn’t help but be disappointed with how the media related the event. Yes, Ahmadinejad is responsible for many absurd remarks and beliefs, but I feel that the general reader would have benefited if local news sources had taken the time and space to reproduce the speech in its entirety. I understand his speech might not have been as popular or easy to read in that format, but with the US and Iran at a crossroads in their relationship, I feel the general population deserved that opportunity.
The real problem, in my opinion, is how many in the national media selected certain topics to use as a moral high ground against Ahmadinejad. When read, however, their arguments are not so far removed from standings found within the US. There are actually quite a few ironic debates chosen to degrade him.
The speech began with an Islamic recitation in Persian and Arabic, as the entire speech was conducted through a translator. As many Americans have been trained to associate all forms of Islam with violence and terrorism, that could be an unsettling beginning. It isn’t that much different from the US, though. Most American presidents have had close relationships with religious leaders and even celebrated official days of prayer. President Bush ends his speeches with “God bless America,” and US currency, pledges and songs show the strong ties between the United States and faith in the Judeo-Christian God.
Later in the speech, when Ahmadinejad was questioned about the treatment of homosexuals, he denied their existence within his country. Truly, it is an absurd statement to make, but the people mocking him are ignoring the environment for homosexuals in this nation. Surely they need not worry about execution at hands of our government, but there are very few places where they can be at peace with who they are without fear of ridicule, abuse or even beatings.
It is also still debated by religious leaders and politicians whether homosexuality is genetic or the result of moral corruption. The US acknowledges their existence; they just aren’t allowed to marry and they live as outsiders in most places.
Ahmadinejad’s reluctance to abide by UN sanctions on developing nuclear power was another controversial subject. Ahmadinejad said his people deserved the right to nuclear power and that he had no intent of creating nuclear weapons. Furthermore, he said, world powers that would want to create them are “retarded” and stand against everything humanity is. While it was not a politically correct way to describe Iran’s nuclear program, it cannot be proved whether or not nuclear weapons would be developed, thus making it a very common- sense statement.
Of course, Ahmadinejad’s most notable comments made in the past and repeated at the Columbia event regard the Holocaust. It is true that he calls for more “scientific investigation” into the awful events, but brought it up in his speech in the context of the Palestinian people. He believes the Palestinian people are paying the price for the Holocaust that took place in Germany, while those who are responsible for the event paid nothing.
In the midst of the ‘hate-speech’, as defined by many who protested, there are valid points being made. With international relations more critical than ever and a US presidential election looming, US citizens deserve to be as informed as possible based on all the information available – not just what someone wants them to focus on. Let his words speak for themselves. Unlike the media, I believe that informed individuals can make their own appropriate judgment calls about controversial topics.
Curtiss Gibson is a senior majoring in English literature.