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An invitation or an ambush?

Iranian president dukes it out at Columbia

Published Sep 27, 2007 12:16 AM

If the appearance of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at Columbia University in New York on Sept. 24 proved anything, it is that the high-priced educational institutions of the United States are an integral part of the political establishment that directs the imperialist foreign policy of this country.

The event was intended to be a trap, a photo op to rev up anti-Iran propaganda to a white heat and give President George W. Bush a cover for the Pentagon’s plans to attack that oil-rich country.

The tabloids in New York tried to crank up a lynch-mob spirit. “The evil has landed,” was the huge front-page headline of the Daily News, along with a photo that caught Ahmadinejad with his eyes half closed.

Columbia’s president, Lee Bollinger, had been harshly attacked, especially by supporters of Israel, for extending an invitation to the Iranian president. But they loved it when he spent 14 minutes insulting Ahmadinejad in what was supposed to be an introduction to this guest speaker. In the guise of giving a welcoming speech, Bollinger went completely over the line, calling the elected Iranian president a “petty, cruel dictator” who was either “brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated.”

Outside, what amounted to an anti-Iran rally was taking place on the Columbia campus, to the delight of all the corporate news media.

Did it work? Only if you go by what the media said about the meeting. And that, of course, is all that most people in the United States get to hear about it.

But transcripts and the video that have made it onto the Internet show that Ahmadinejad was sharp, calm but combative, and restored some measure of reality to the event when he finally got a chance to talk. He also got support from some of the students.

After being pilloried by the head of the university—who, by the way, is also a member of the Federal Reserve Board of New York, a sign of his standing among the financial elite—Ahmadinejad right away replied, to applause, that in Iran a guest would never be treated that way: “We actually respect our students and the professors by allowing them to make their own judgment, and we don’t think it’s necessary before the speech is even given to come in with a series of claims and to attempt in a so-called manner to provide vaccination of some sort to our students and our faculty.”

He went on to reply to the questions raised—something very few heads of state, especially those from the imperialist powers, ever do. Ahmadinejad and Iran have been accused of denying the Holocaust happened and of trying to build nuclear weapons. The imperialist powers, led by the United States but including Britain and now France, are actually threatening war against Iran, supposedly because of its nuclear program. A huge armada of U.S. warships sits off its coast.

Asked his position on the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad did not deny it happened, but questioned what had happened to the Middle East since then in its name. “It happened in Europe. The Palestinian people had no role to play in it. ... Why is it that the Palestinians must pay the price, innocent Palestinians?” he asked. “For 5 million refugees to remain displaced or refugees abroad for 60 years—is this not a crime? Is asking about these things a crime by itself?”

Asked if he wanted to see Israel destroyed, the implication being that Iran was poised for a war against the Zionist settler state, Ahmadinejad referred to the territory as Palestine, and replied, “Let the people of Palestine freely choose what they want for their future.”

The Israeli regime has expelled millions of Palestinians and won’t let them return to their homeland, where they would become the majority. If democracy really existed there for all the people, including the Palestinians now forced into dismal refugee camps, a secular state of Arabs and Jews could have replaced the theocratic state of Israel a long time ago.

On Iran’s nuclear development, Ahmadinejad stressed that its purpose was to provide peaceful power, that his country has been a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency for over 33 years, and that member states have the right to peaceful nuclear fuel technology. But he also pointed out the extreme hypocrisy of Washington on this issue. “If you have created the fifth generation of atomic bombs,” he said, “and are testing them already, what position are you in to question the peaceful purpose of other people who want nuclear power?”

The next morning, in his speech to the UN General Assembly, Ahmadinejad laced into “certain powers” that pretend to be exclusive advocates of human rights while “Setting up secret prisons, abducting persons, trials and secret punishments without any regard to due process, extensive tapping of telephone conversations, intercepting private mail, and frequent summons to police and security centers have become commonplace and prevalent.” Everyone understood who he was talking about; the U.S. and Israeli delegates boycotted the speech.

It wasn’t long ago that Pentagon saber-rattling was so feared that few of the once-colonized countries of the world seeking sovereignty and peaceful development dared challenge U.S. imperialism in public. Like the resistance in Iraq and the emergence of nationalist regimes in Latin America, the Iranian leader’s visit to the U.S. underscored that the times they are a-changing.

And they’re changing inside the U.S., too. The liberal news Web site commondreams.org on Sept. 25 ran a short piece on Ahmadinejad’s visit by Ru Freeman that excoriated Bollinger for acting “appallingly and disgracefully,” and concluded that “the president of Iran possesses a grace that neither his host nor the hecklers at Columbia University nor the press in this country nor, I might as well state the obvious, the president of this country can claim.”

By that evening, 116 e-mails had been posted commenting on Freeman’s article—and they overwhelmingly criticized Bollinger’s treatment of the Iranian president and the arrogance of U.S. authorities in general. One writer summed it up: “How come Bollinger never managed the courage to direct those words towards our own petty, cruel dictator?” ν