Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What exactly was the point?

So I heard about President Ahmadinejad's visit to the United States, and specifically Columbia University, and thought that it was an odd move. I certainly don't have respect for the man, nor do I agree with just about anything he says, but in the interest of academic freedom and debate, I figured "now this is an interesting proposition." I wondered what the University hoped to accomplish. Well, not very much as it turns out.

Ahmadinejad questions 9/11, Holocaust

NEW YORK - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defended Holocaust revisionists and raised questions about who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks in a tense showdown Monday at Columbia University, where the school's head introduced the hard-line leader by calling him a "petty and cruel dictator."

Ahmadinejad portrayed himself as an intellectual and argued that his administration respected reason and science. But the former engineering professor, appearing shaken and irate over he called "insults" from his host, soon found himself drawn into the type of rhetoric that has alienated American audiences in the past.

He provoked derisive laughter by responding to a question about Iran's execution of homosexuals by saying: "In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country ... I don't know who's told you that we have this."

Ahmadinejad drew audience applause at times, such as when he bemoaned the plight of the Palestinians. But he often declined to offer the simple answers the audience sought, responding instead with his own questions or long statements about history and justice.

Ahmadinejad has in the past called for Israel's elimination. But his exact remarks have been disputed. Some translators say he called for Israel to be "wiped off the map," but others say that would be better translated as "vanish from the pages of time" — implying Israel would disappear on its own rather than be destroyed.

Ahmadinejad's past statements about the Holocaust also have raised hackles in the West, and were soundly attacked by Bollinger.

"In a December 2005 state television broadcast, you described the Holocaust as the fabricated legend," Bollinger told Ahmadinejad said in his opening remarks. "One year later, you held a two-day conference of Holocaust deniers."

Bollinger said that might fool the illiterate and ignorant.

"When you come to a place like this, it makes you simply ridiculous. The truth is that the Holocaust is the most documented event in human history," he said.

Ahmadinejad said he wasn't passing judgment on whether the Holocaust occurred, but that, "assuming this happened, what does it have to do with the Palestinian people?"

Now let it be known that I fundamentally disagree with just about everything out of this man's mouth. And it's not even that I disagree with what Dr. Bollinger had to say. It's just that I wonder exactly what the point was? Why invite a speaker who so clearly repudiates everything that American academic institutions stand for? And even if one is so inclined to start a serious debate, why ruin it by regressing to antagonistic rhetoric? Really: what IS the point?

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