IvyGate dispatched Fernanda Diaz, Columbia undergrad, former Spec columnist, and current deputy opinion editor, to follow in the illustrious footsteps of J.D. Porter. Her report of Ahmadinehad’s rambling speech — from within the belly of the beast — is below. See also the award-winning (in our heads, at least) coverage at Bwog and the Spec’s Ahmadineblog. Well done to you both, kind sirs.
Maybe it was the presence of Secret Service agents roaming the aisles, or the baffling smirk on President Ahmadinejad’s face as he listened to President Bollinger recount his achievements in human rights abuse and Holocaust-denying, or maybe it was just the fact that we all wanted to seem cool and over it before it even began, but today’s Ahmadinejad-at-Columbia extravaganza was nowhere near as tense, shocking, nor revolting as it was supposed to have been. For the most part, it was actually pretty hilarious.
Structured like the Ivy League version of a boxing match, in which Columbia President Lee Bollinger, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and SIPA Dean John Coatsworth were given an allotted time to throw their punches before a bell literally rang and allowed the other to fight back, the culmination of the whole affair was entertainingly unreal.
The first round belonged to Bollinger, who fiercely addressed his guest of honor about his deplorable crackdown on human rights agents, his nuclear proliferation program, and his “absurd comments” on the Holocaust. He told the audience it wasn’t about the rights of the speaker, but about us, that we’re engaging in it for ourselves, consistent with the “idea that one should know thine enemies.” It made us proud to be such a beacon of truth and free speech-we drank it up, we cheered. But as dreamy as PrezBo can be, and as brave as he seemed in calling the President “quite simply ridiculous, brazenly provocative, or astonishingly uneducated,” it was Ahmadinejad who I couldn’t take my eyes off of. He seemed to be having a fabulous time-too fabulous a time-sitting on the other end of the stage, listening attentively and smiling, as if to him the world record for the execution of minors and being likened to “a petty and cruel dictator” were mere folly, and an entire auditorium of critics couldn’t notice his creepily audacious grin.
When Ahmadinejad’s round came, he managed to live up to PrezBo’s expectations that he wouldn’t have the intellectual courage to answer all our questions. Respectfully, however, the audience greeted him without any booing, and sat awkwardly silently through his prepared speech about the God-given gift of science and knowledge to man, and the insulting treatment of science by “wrongdoers” who misuse it for commercial interest. “We are a peaceful and loving nation,” he concluded, and brought the audience to a conflicting booooo!yeahhhhh!booooo!woooo!boooo! response.
During the question and answer session, whatever tension there might have been dissolved, as Ahmadinejad theatrically powered through most questions by avoiding them, admitting “I know there’s time limits but I need time” and, in English, asking for “one minute,” leaving us no choice but to laugh, incredulously. His lovely tactic of “In response to your question, I’d like to raise two questions” left almost every issue he was asked to respond to unresolved, with gems like “I ask, should Palestinians have to pay the price for an event they had nothing to do with?” “Don’t you also have capital punishment?” “You give us embargoes and sanctions because we are against human rights and freedom? Under those pretenses?”, given in response to student questions about his stance on the Holocaust, Iran’s execution of women and homosexuals, and the limits of his nuclear program.
So, he came, finally, he spoke, in Farsi, and managed to make jokes, invite us to Iran, and tell the world that in Iran there are no such things as homosexuals. Anticlimactic? Sure, but ridiculous and thought-provoking nonetheless.