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A Persian President in New York: Ahmadinejad weathers “welcome” — videos

American historian Carl Becker has an astute observation, previously cited here, that often,

Whether arguments command assent or not depends less upon the logic that conveys them than upon the climate of opinion in which they are sustained.*

Excepting the encouraging alternative streams of discourse on the web, Becker’s truism seems well demonstrated in the current level of propagated public discourse in the USA regarding Iran and President Ahmadinejad’s visit to Columbia University this week.

It is as if Faux Fox News writ large has permeated even the hallowed halls of Columbia University, with its President Lee Bollinger repeating half-truths, canards and lies and adding ingracious personal insult to these injuries.

First, let’s choose to look at the glass half-full. Under the aegis of academic freedom, Columbia University did not succumb, at least, to the denial of a Head of State’s visit, as happened with the rejection of the Iranian President’s request to visit Ground Zero to pay his respects. The invited address went ahead and many people will now have the opportunity to hear Ahmadinejad directly through the web (videos below; see also full transcript available here).

In a thirty minute address, the populist figurehead President speaks about academic freedom, science and religion. Towards the end of his address (20 minute mark, see third video clip) he is impassioned about the perennial need to have academic inquiry open on subjects such as the Shoah, and questions why Palestinians are paying the price for the Holocaust in WWII. He then defends Iran’s rights to nuclear technology and energy self-determination, citing Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA’s inspections.

A low point in the thirty minute Q and A that follows is when the translation presents President Ahmadinejad as saying that there are no gays in Iran when discussing human rights, inviting some jeers from the audience. This is a pity because it will be seized upon to discredit him (see comments for a discussion on this). Note: In a Democracy Now! interview this week, Seymour Hersh has attested to the “lost in translation” effect President Ahmadinejad’s recent comments about there not being a no gay problem in Iran, rather than there being no gays in Iran.

Bollinger’s pettifoggery in insulting his guest is more than just a departure from good form and civility, in which one hears an invited visitor out before presuming to berate him for propagated claims about supporting terror. As shown in the first two video clips, Bollinger says to his guest, “Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator” (would he dared to have said that to the pro-Bush Saudi Prince Bandar?) and tells him “You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated” when it comes to the Holocaust.

As well as discourteous, Bollinger’s demagoguery is obviously hypocritical and rife with double standards. Bollinger should know that the US administration is hardly a model after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq; after systemic abuse by the US military and mercenaries there such as the Haditha massacre; after Abu Ghraib; after the Guantanamo gulag, to cite just a few recent events. Bollinger should know that Israel’s, Saudi Arabia’s, China’s and other nations human rights abuses are entirely overlooked: the neocons have no compunction in actively propping up tyrants and child killers provided the appointed leader-for-life suppresses popular democratic movements at home where they are out of step with sectional US administration designs; is loyal to the revenue stream of America’s military- industrial complex; and underwrites US Empire by continuing to trade in and hold greenbacks.

As ever—but particularly at this juncture and with their sights on Iran—the neocons are spoiling for a fight.

Fortunately, we are also empowered to shape that public climate of opinion in which President Ahmadinejad is not demonised. Browsing though forums and blog posts suggests that Ahmadinejad’s decision to accept Columbia’s invitation has succeeded in winning him sympathy and that Mr Bollinger’s attack has backfired.
Part One (10 minutes)

Part Two (9 minutes)

President Ahmadinejad address in full, with Q & A (60 minutes)

Full transcript link here (or download as .pdf)

* Carl Becker, The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth Century Philosophers (1932, p. 5)

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8 comments on “A Persian President in New York: Ahmadinejad weathers “welcome” — videos

  1. Bluebear2
    26 September, 2007

    “Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator” (would he dared to have said that to the pro-Bush Saudi Prince Bandar?)

    I’d love the opportunity to say that to Bush!

  2. Pingback: A New York Welcome: Mahmoud Ahmedinajed’s Colombia Address « Throw Away Your Telescreen!

  3. Dave On Fire
    26 September, 2007

    Indeed, other than the pretty appalling “no homosexuals in Iran” remark at the end, he comes off remarkably well. It’s easy to understand his popularity in the Middle East.

  4. Ann El Khoury
    26 September, 2007

    I agree. And it was encouraging to see the Cindy Sheehan, Juan Cole et al write-ups.

    It was a pity he said what he did about gays as that will be seized upon and eclipse the other important points he made. I’ll reproduce here some of what Naj wrote in her response to his comment about “no gays in Iran” in her blog comments:

    “sexuality” is not a discourse in Iran. You can be homosexual, as long as you do not brag about it, and as long as no one finds out.

    Khomeini is perhaps teh only religious figure who decreed the liberty of sex-change for individuals who were transgendered.

    It is very hypocritical of americans to blame Ahmadinejad for not respecting gays rights, when their liberal democracies do not allow them get married.

    Again, what Ahmadinejad said about absence of gays is TRUE. You will find men holding hand in Iran, all the time. They are not prosecuted unless if caught in public engaging in sex. And that woudl go for anyone.

    Iran is a conservative society, and a puritan one, and it doesn’t have to do with its Islamic regime, it’s the entire society.

    And again:

    Just as heterosexuality is not a commodity on display in Iran, nor is homosexuality. Iranians, by and large do not wear their “sexual orientation” on their sleeves. To watch someone give an open mouth kiss in presence of others is considered rude! Just as farting is considered rude. Would you condemn Iranians for torturing the people by not letting them release their gas!!?

    The homosexuals have a cafe, in north of Tehran. Every now an again, just like they start cracking down on women, they crack down on gays! The gays are most vulnerable when the fascist elements of state want to have their show of force. They are easier to beat because there is not going to be a revolt in the society for beating up homosexuals. The whole country is not sympathetic to them. Homosexuality is tolerated as a disease, not as a life style!

    To treat homosexuality as a disease LEAVES ROOM for the shiite clerics to deviate from Koran and to be in fact more tolerant to homosexuals than would Sunni arab countries be.

    This is why Khomeini gave a fatwa that allowed sex change! I have sen so many cross dressers in Iran. I have seen people who ignore their appearance, and others who are rude to them.

    Iran does not have an agenda against homosexuals. But if homosexuals align themselves with the political streams of Washington, they are confronted!

    Iran’s human rights record is not any worse than what is happening in the US today! Scary thought, no?!

  5. Curtis
    26 September, 2007

    Great to hear what naj had to say, thank you. I wonder if the “no gays” remark was supposed to be some kind of bizarre appeal to the American Right? I’m sure that’s reading a bit much into it. Always the provocateur, Mahmoud, he is.

    Pettifoggery is now my favorite word.

    It is very embarrassing to me, and to many more like me, I am sure, to have to be identified with a culture whose most hallowed institutions stoke attitudes that are so endemically pernicious to meaningful dialog. Juan Cole does a fine job of explaining why that is (in this case), but, in my opinion, you summed it up far more succinctly with the quote from Carl Becker.

  6. Pingback: Déjà vu in the Persian Gulf « can’t see the forest

  7. Ann El Khoury
    26 September, 2007

    Thanks Curt. I agree that’s a fine piece by Juan Cole and how I wish an academic of his scholarly calibre were giving the introductory address in Bollinger’s place. I also enjoyed reading and have bookmarked your Déjà vu in the Persian Gulf post.

    Blue Bear
    makes a good point about Bush’s inaccessibility in contrast to Ahmadinejad’s. As Pierre Tristram notes:

    The guy had the guts to submit to open questions from a hostile university and New York audience. When’s the last time George W. Bush had that courage? Bush never goes within a mile of an audience that hasn’t been filtered, interrogated, pre-screened and pre-judged by his goons. Yet here was Ahmadinejad knowingly entering the maw of the dragon, as far as he was concerned, and taking questions.

  8. Pingback: Ahmadinejad in Columbia University « Reflections

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This entry was posted on 25 September, 2007 by in Holocaust, Iran, Media, Neocons, People, Politics, Propaganda and psy-ops, US Foreign Policy, USA, Video and tagged , , .

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