Columbia Students May Dine With A Dictator

Four years ago, on September 24, 2007, Columbia University invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to address the campus.

Alumni threatened to remove their funding from the University and students and concerned citizens protested in uproar over the university’s decision to provide a public forum for a man who many say embodies cruelty, tyranny, aggression and intolerance.

Ahmadinejad has called for the destruction of Israel, denied the Holocaust and promoted the preposterous theory that the United States planned the 9/11 attacks as an excuse to launch wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. He is prosecuting homosexuals, blatantly violating human rights in Iran and is widely believed to be actively pursuing nuclear weapons and sponsoring al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. He rejects all forms of democracy and expels brazen, discriminatory dialect.

But Columbia University President Lee Bollinger defended his invitation to Ahmadinejad, arguing that providing Columbia as a forum for Ahmadinejad “is the right thing to do” because “it is required by the existing norms of free speech, of Columbia University, and of academic institutions.”

After a cold introduction from Bollinger, in which he referred to Ahmadinejad as “ridiculous” and a “petty and cruel dictator,” Ahmadinejad maintained his infamous reputation and made rash, hatred-filled comments about the state of Israel, questioned the extent of the Holocaust and denied the existence of homosexuals in the Islamic Republic.

“In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country,” Ahmadinejad said during that 2007 speech to Columbia students. “In Iran we do not have this phenomenon. I don’t know who’s told you that we have this.”

Ahmadinejad then defended Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons by stating that the United States has developed nuclear capabilities so it’s only fair that Iran can as well.

Unfortunately, it seems that Columbia University has not learned from its mistakes.

Rumors have been circulating that the University’s President Lee Bollinger and 15 members of the Columbia International Relations Council and Association (CIRCA) may be attending a private dinner with Ahmadinejad on September 21 in Midtown Manhattan while he is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. 

According to Bollinger’s office, however, it is just a rumor.

“At no time has there been any University event planned or considered involving the president of Iran and President Bollinger, nor has there ever been any plan for a dinner involving the Iranian president on campus,” Bollinger’s office told TRNS. “Media reports to the contrary have no basis in fact and we hope they will be corrected.”

CIRCA’s involvement, however, was confirmed by the Columbia Spectator.

CIRCA vice president of academics Tim Chan told the Spectato that group members are “enthusiastic” about their potential dinner with Ahmadinejad and are “thrilled to have this opportunity.”

Chan, however, stressed that the meeting is still tentative.

In an op-ed published in the Spectator on Wednesday entitled, “Say No to Ahmadinedinner,” Columbia Junior David Fine argued that “the moral burden of our Columbia education and human dignity requires us to examine whether it is right for us to sit down to dinner with a man who facilitates, even encourages, such executions.”

“What will this dinner accomplish? Nothing, except a sating of the human urge to be in the presence of greatness, no matter how unbridled or pernicious,” Fine wrote. “Since no public report can be made, nor Ahmadinejad’s opinions changed, this intimate dinner is, at best, the moral equivalent of sitting down with Jeffrey Dahmer or Charles Manson just for the “thrill.” At worst, it is a small, but useful, affirmation for Ahmadinejad that his thoughts deserve to be heard by the best and brightest that American universities can offer.”

CIRCA did not respond to TRNS’s request for comment.

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TRNS Washington Desk
News updates from on and around Capitol Hill.

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