Reflections on Ahmadinejad's talk to Columbia University

I watched a video of the talk given by President Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, at Columbia university earlier this week.

As one would expect for a talk to an audience of academics by a politician, the talk was full of talk about Science leading the quest for knowledge and civilisation. One interesting point which I was unaware of, however, which makes the talk less pandering is that Ahmadinejad is himself a lecturing scientist, and he stated he was still teaching even whilst being president.

When pushed on the hot potato topics of Israel & Palestine, Iran’s nuclear program and the treatment of women and homosexuals in Iran, the president was, not surprisingly, incredibly evasive. Aside from when talking about homosexuals, where he made the now widely-publisised comment that Iran doesn’t have homosexuals, unlike “your country [America]”, straight answers were not in evidence.

If one were to come fresh to the talk, one might reason that Iran was a calm, peaceful country which merely wants to be left alone. Context precludes one from being so naive, but it does seem the American cold shouldering is counter-productive. Both Iran and the US posturing seems to get no one anywhere.

The thing which annoyed me most about the session was said not by Ahmadinejad, but by the Dean of Columbia when performing the introduction to the talk. He was incredibly obnoxious and offensive to both Ahmadinejad and Iran in general, which I found unacceptable for introducing an invited guest; certainly not the impression I would hope to be projected by reasonable and open-minded people. The barely veiled barbs contained in a self-congratulatory speech on the US’s defense free speech: even for individuals who are “evil and repulsive” — not “we find to be”, but “are” — was delivered without a hint of irony.

Whilst aspects of Iran and its president may be well and truly on the unpleasant side, introducing your guests — however you feel about them — in such a way reflects terribly on the US — and the West — as a whole. Perhaps the Dean was forced into it by the media or pressure groups, perhaps he really felt it the right thing to say; in either case, he should be ashamed.