By Naveed Mansoori
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s president, has been accused of anti-Semitism, homophobia and social injustice while also leading a country that lies on the “axis of evil.” On Sept. 24, he was invited by Columbia University’s president Lee C. Bollinger to come to the campus and answer questions about his controversial and avant-garde politics.
In his introductory speech, Bollinger accused Ahmadinejad of “exhibit[ing] all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator,” and regarding Ahmadinejad’s comments questioning the legitimacy of the Holocaust, Bollinger called Iran’s president “either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated.”
For Middle East observer and commentator Kam Zarrabi, Bollinger was “outrageously rude” in the way he treated Ahmadinejad, and said that Iran’s president was being wrongfully viewed as a “performer in a traveling circus,” as stated in his article “The Circus at Columbia University.”
“Two clearly objectionable violations of journalistic principles were committed: one was the contents and the tone of questions put to Mr. Ahmadinejad,” Zarrabi wrote in an e-mail to City on a Hill Press (CHP). “The other error was in not addressing the more important issues that involved international affairs.”
Zarrabi said that the “loaded, accusatory questions” directed toward Ahmadinejad made it seem as if the president were in a “monkey trial,” and that the purpose of his trip was to “elaborate to the American public Iran’s concerns and grievances.”
During his questioning at Columbia, Ahmadinejad stated that there are no homosexuals in Iran, and referred to homosexuality as a phenomenon. He also requested that the Holocaust be treated as a theory requiring more research.
Talia Stern Coutin, co-chair of the Santa Cruz Israel Action Committee, stated that she was “deeply disturbed” that Ahmadinejad was invited to “spew his filth at a college campus.”
“If you don’t believe that Ahmadinejad is developing a nuclear arsenal to target Israel with, then you might as well not believe in the existence of gays in Iran,” Coutin wrote in an e-mail to CHP. “Their existence is as indisputable as the history of the Holocaust and the 3,000-year history of the Jews in modern Israel. It’s almost ironic that the Nazis and Ahmadinejad have targeted both Jews and gays.”
Regardless of political beliefs, UCSC Chancellor Blumenthal told CHP that he supports Columbia’s Bollinger in both inviting the Iranian president to the University, as well as voicing his opinion of the controversial leader.
“It was appropriate for President Bollinger to have expressed his own views about current Iranian policies,” Blumenthal said.
“I admire him for doing that and I endorse him.”
Politicals views and endorsements aside, some direct criticism toward the media for catering to the common perceptions put forth about the Iranian president.
Foaad Khosmood, a member of the Iranian Student Network (ISN) at UC Santa Cruz, critiqued mainstream media’s coverage of Ahmadinejad’s visit for missing the chance to instigate peaceful measures.
“The media could have helped prevent another war,” Khosmood said, “Instead they’re marching towards the few, unfortunate things that he said.”
Zarrabi explained the dangers of media bias, especially in relation to Ahmadinejad, by giving commentary on the public’s perception of freedom of speech.
“Unlike in other parts of the world where people are more likely to be suspicious of and skeptical about honesty and integrity of their news â€¦ the American people have a tendency to equate freedoms of speech and access to information as guaranteeing the media’s objective impartiality,” Zarrabi said.
“The issue of demonization is what is at course here,” Khosmood said. “The right wing and the media have decided to make Ahmadinejad another Saddam Hussein. [In] his speech some unfortunate things were said, which expose the fact that he is not a tolerant person, but that hardly makes him unique among war leaders.”
Khosmood, in addressing the importance of accurate media coverage stated that Ahmadinejad’s admittance of the Holocaust’s existence, his reiteration that Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons, and his support for the Palestinian people were among the things that the media should have been focused on.
Khosmood said, “These are important things that would lead to peace in the world.”