Iranian Leader Protested
Controversial speech draws thousands of protestors
Protesters against the appearance of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran (whose portrait is held at center) on the campus of Columbia University in New York, Monday, Sept. 24, 2007. (Photo: ©Damon Winter/The New York Times/Redux)
Protestors swarmed the Columbia University campus in New York City on Monday to object to the visit of the Iranian President. At the invitation of the university, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke to an audience of about 600 students and professors while thousands protested outside the auditorium and on campus grounds.
The Iranian President, who is also a university professor, was invited to speak by Lee Bollinger, the Columbia University president. The Iranian leader is in New York to give an address to the United Nations Assembly on the subject of human rights in his country.
Ahmadinejad is controversial for his anti–Semitic statements and actions, harboring and arming terrorists, and calling for the destruction of the nation of Israel. The international community is also concerned with Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran is considered a rogue state by the U.S., meaning it is hostile to America and does not follow international norms of behavior. The U.S. currently enforces trade sanctions against Iran.
The President was questioned about all of these issues after his speech.
"The [International Atomic Energy] Agency’s reports indicate that Iran's activities are peaceful, that they have not detected a deviation," he said in response to a question about his country’s interest in nuclear research. If Iran developed nuclear weapons, it could be an even bigger threat to Israel and the world than it is now.
The Iranian President said his country is a victim of terrorism and does not export terrorists. U.S. officials disagree, pointing to the number of Iranian weapons and insurgents found in Iraq on a regular basis. A request by Ahmadinejad to visit the site of the World Trade Center bombings was denied by New York City authorities because of security concerns.
When asked what he hoped to accomplish by laying a wreath at Ground Zero, he said he wanted to show sympathy for September 11 victims and their families. A visit by the Iranian President to the site would be an insult to Americans, said U.S. officials.
"I would hope that the world, in listening to anything President Ahmadinejad has to say . . . would remember that this is an individual who is actively trying to build a nuclear weapon," said Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman, at a briefing in Washington. "This is an individual who actively supports terrorist groups, like Hezbollah, that actively supports Palestinian rejectionist groups like Hamas, that actively promotes the transition or at least permits the transfer of weapons that are attacking our troops and Iraqi troops and destabilizing the situation in Iraq."
Freedom of Speech
Casey also pointed out that Ahmadinejad was being given freedom of speech, which is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, but not permitted in Iran.
University president Bollinger was severely criticized for inviting Ahmadinejad. Many believe it was wrong of Bollinger to give such a prominent platform to a leader whose ideas are so prejudiced and hateful.
Bollinger defended his decision in the name of intellectual freedom, but he also blasted the Iranian President when introducing him. Bollinger said Ahmadinejad is a leader who shows "all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator."
Ahmadinejad responded by saying, "In Iran, tradition requires when you invite a person to be a speaker, we actually respect our students enough to allow them to make their own judgment."
President Bush did not seem to feel strongly either way. "If the (Columbia University) president thinks it's a good idea to have the leader from Iran come and talk to the students as an educational experience, I guess it's OK with me," Bush told the press.
Critical Thinking Question
Read today’s story and answer the following question.
Do you think Columbia University president Lee Bollinger should have invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at such a public forum? Why or why not?
Join a discussion of this question on our bulletin board.
Read more about international relations in our special report on the United Nations.
Samantha Henderson is a contributing writer for Scholastic News Online.