It began innocently enough. The Columbia International Relations Council and Association (CIRCA, formerly known as Model UN) announced to their members that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (who gave a speech at Columbia in 2007), in town for the United Nations General Assembly, had invited them to a dinner on September 21st (the logistics of this invitation are unclear). Bwog has obtained a copy of the email sent to the CIRCA listerv. Here’s an excerpt:
II. DINNER WITH IRANIAN PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD
When: Wednesday, September 21
Time: 6:30 PM
Why: To learn about Iran from her president! Noting high demand for
this event, will be accepting names of interested CIRCA members on a
first-come-first-serve basis. We cannot guarantee spots. Please email
CIRCA Vice President of Academics, Tim Chan (firstname.lastname@example.org),
with your name, school, and class year. If you are a veteran CIRCA
member, please briefly list your involvements with the club.
Soon after, Spec wrote a story about the planned meeting, which did not make clear whether or not the meal was actually confirmed, or simply a possibility. Their article, like everything else relating to this situation, was not without controversy. The Spec article includes a quote from Tim Chan, CIRCA’s Vice-President of Academic Affairs. Rhonda Shafei, CIRCA’s president, tells Bwog that Chan tried to retract his comments before the story was published in the print edition of the paper (although the story had been published online for over a day), but Spec refused. Otherwise, CIRCA had no comment on the story.
Spec’s article brought the planned dinner to the attention of national media, including Fox News and The New York Post, who accused Columbia students of “dining with a madman” and being desperate for attention.
Fars, an Iranian news organization with close ties to the government, also picked up the story. They initially reported Ahmadinejad might visit Columbia, but later reported that they had heard from Iranian diplomats at the UN that he would not. Confusingly, the diplomats said “no special program has been arranged for the Columbia University,” but allowed that “each year, the President attends meetings with…the students of different universities.” That seems to leave open the possibility he still plans to dine with CIRCA in midtown.
The story also got us sued. The Israeli legal organization Shurat HaDin argued that allowing members of CIRCA to have dinner with the Iranian president constitutes illegal support for terrorism. Here’s the letter they sent to Prezbo:
Iran is officially designated under U.S. law as a state-sponsor of terrorism, as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and as a perpetrator of human rights abuses. Ahmadinejad is Iran’s chief executive and personally directs Iran’s terrorist and nuclear proliferation activities and human rights abuse. …
The planned Columbia University event for Ahmadinejad would constitute the type of seemingly innocuous material support that would render both Columbia University and you personally criminally and civilly liable notwithstanding any putative First Amendment claims.
It’s worth noting that every news outlet seems to be obsessed with the idea that this is a Columbia-sponsored event and refuses to draw the line between the administration and the actions of a student group. The lawyer from Shurat HaDin who wrote the piece said that the only support for the claim that Columbia’s supporting terrorism is that CIRCA has a columbia.edu email address.
On a lighter note, Tablet Magazine used the planned meeting as an excuse to introduce their readers to Hawkma.
Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad is locked in a power struggle with his boss, Ayatollah Khomenei. On the same day the Post called him a “madman,” Ahmadinejad ordered the release of two American hikers imprisoned in Iran. Today, the Iranian government fought back, and announced that he doesn’t have the authority to free them. But don’t think he’s a hero. Since taking office in 2005, Ahmadinejad has repeatedly denied the Holocaust and bolstered the development of Iran’s nuclear program against the orders of the UN Security Council. Plus, he was complicit in a rigged election and linked to violent crackdowns on protesters. Maybe CIRCA will ask him about all of it at dinner.
Relive Bwog’s liveblog of Ahmadinejad’s controversial appearance at Columbia in 2007.
Iranian President via Wikimedia
@Anonymous My God, there are a lot of people not on the Columbia network. Oh wait, track button has shown me it’s the same 2 people. Bicker elsewhere, it’ll make about the same difference.
@Anarch Well, Captain America, my lad, I watched an interesting interview with former Serbian Diplomat, foreign policy analyst, and naturalized American citizen Srdja Trifkovic, who is no shill of Islam but recognizes that our foreign policy makes it a larger not a smaller threat to Western Civilization. When asked whether political correctness was worse than communism, he responded that he felt freer to express opinions in communist Yugoslavia than he does in modern Frankfurt School America.
I present you, courtesy of the H.L. Mencken Club, Is PC worse than Communism?:
PS You didn’t take up my challenge!
@hmm I hate to say it, but whenever something like this happens, I am shocked to discover the level of ignorance, timidity, moral myopia– and outright moral bankruptcy– that prevails here. I frequented these threads the last time there was an Ahmadinejad invitation, and frankly I’m dismayed and outright disgusted to find that these problems have only worsened since. Go ahead and “thumb” me down. I don’t need or want the approval of cowards.
@Anarch Do I smell the carrion of a collapsing ideology? As Napoleon said, “The corpse of an enemy always smells sweet.” As for the coward part, are you posting from Iraq or Afghanistan? Are you going to volunteer when we attack Iran?
If you think I’m a coward we can meet in person and have a chat!
Name a time and a place and I’ll meet you there.
@aha What you “smell” is disgust. As for the coward part, I like you am posting from America, beacon of hope and liberty for the world.
@Anonymous why does it even matter if he denies the holocaust? if it occurred it occurred. what possible impact could his denial have? i mean, we have republicans in the congress and presidential candidates who deny global warming, evolution, want to criminalise green energy. they have the potential to actually regress this country.
@hmm Do you mean to imply by your use of “if,” that you doubt its veracity as well? The impact of the denial on the part of practically everyone who engages in it is the impact of any other form of psychological warfare– it is an effort to taunt and wither the souls of the survivors and their brethren, and to deny them the dignity they preserve by public recognition of the crimes that they endured.
@Anonymous nope i don’t doubt its veracity, i just don’t care for it. i’m more concerned with the immediate problems and policies of my own country and politicians. i don’t see rwandans or armenians going around beating the entire world for what happened to them. save your guilt-tripping for someone else, i honestly don’t care.
@Anonymous I honestly can’t believe that you think that the fact that some idiot politician expresses doubts about Creationism, or even heaven forbid expresses a dislike for dear leader’s “green jobs” is of greater consequence than the racial taunts of a madman who says he wants nuclear bombs. You said it– not me.
@Anonymous ahmadinejad said he wants nuclear bombs? what are your sources for this? even if he did, so what? do you honestly think he’s gonna BOMB israel? do you think he’s that stupid? all i see here is that you are great at putting words into people’s mouth, just like how you wilfully ignore how my reference to a ‘stupid’ policy issue wasn’t a reference to a whole bevy of idiotic tactics and ignorant remarks that are currently the trade of our politicians. go back to your tea party
@ummm veracity does not imply authenticity. just repetition and regurgitation, not so different from media tactics into instilling fear, and hatred for a specific group of people.
@Anonymous “recognized by our country…as a person who supports and funds terrorists.”
Nelson Mandela was on the US government’s terrorist (black)list until 2008, two decades after an international boycott movement led his release from prison, fourteen years after being elected president of SA, and long long after he became an internationally recognized freedom fighter. The US has no credibility on the “terrorism” issue, and will sooner implode on its own hypocrisy than admit it is wrong (which it often is).
“I do have a problem sitting next to a person who supplies weapons and funding to islamic [sic] extremists.”
It’s a good thing Ronald Reagan is dead then. He supported General Zia’s fundamentalist dictatorship in Pakistan, not to mention OBL’s crusade against the Soviets in Afghanistan, with military aid and political support. Thank goodness I graduated from Columbia already. The inmates run that asylum.
@Anonymous The point you seem to be skipping over is that he is recognized by our country and most other countries as a person who supports and funds terrorists. I do have a problem sitting next to a person who supplies weapons and funding to islamic extremists.
@Anonymous no one is making you go and sit with him. george bush and his government are universally regarded as a terrorist regime in the rest of the world, responsible for the death of hundred of thousands and the displacement of millions. who are you to talk?
@Anonymous cross-posted on spec comments. but..
Very well written piece by David Fine. I’ve met David personally and he’s a great guy. However, I do understand the excitement of CIRCA and I support them in their desire to eat with Mr. Ahmedinejad.
First of all, from a foreign policy student’s perspective, this opportunity to gain personal insight into a man of Ahmedinejad’s fame (or infamy) is simply unparalleled. There are no amount of news articles or books or essays that would deliver the same experience of actually getting to know a major world figure in an intimate setting like a private dinner. I’m not saying that the students would suddenly understand Ahmedinejad after a meal, but I’m saying that they would learn things that they (and the rest of the world) might never otherwise have known about the man. So, from an educational standpoint, I think that eating with Ahmedinejad would be utterly fascinating, and as a political science student, I myself would relish the opportunity.
Now, on the topic of the bad things that Ahmedinejad has done. Sure, maybe it was his government which oversaw the brutal hanging of the two boys who, by all accounts, seem to have been unjustly murdered. Yes, there’s talk of his disrespect for human rights and his polemics against Israel. But sitting down with the man doesn’t mean an endorsement of everything he is. Are we the type of people who lack the confidence to look into the eyes of people who we disagree with? Why are we afraid to learn about the other side? We live in a complex, flawed world, where not everything is black and white; we give up opportunities to see the world for what it truly is if we run away from everything that upsets us.
Furthermore, I suspect that David, or any of the anti-Ahmedinejad voices here, would have no problem with dining with Hu Jintao or Vladimir Putin, George W. Bush, or even Barack Obama, all of whom are powerful men who have led crackdowns and/or wars that have flagrantly disrespected human rights of far-away individuals, who have been accused of human rights crimes, and have pursued violent agendas that have ruined thousands of lives. It is impossible to make absolute moral judgements of mortal leaders. While Ahmedinejad is certainly a ‘bad’ dictator who is unquestionably opposed to the interests of the United States and Israel, I reject the idea that we can so universally denounce him as a human being that nobody should even dare to dine with him at the risk of \sacrificing their moral dignity\. Agree with him or not, hate him or not, deem him a criminal or not, he is certainly a very compelling, fascinating individual who would be extremely interesting to meet in person.
I am not writing this to disparage David’s personal feelings about Ahmedinejad, or vouch for the Iranian dictator. But I do want to caution against trying to draw unequivocal moral conclusions about politics and the world in general. It’s one thing to say \I really don’t like this guy.\ It’s another thing to imply that CIRCA students are committing some sort of moral sin by eating food with Ahmedinejad. As students, we close off our minds to our own detriment. Let the CIRCA students go, and let’s support them for their bravery in choosing to take on this truly unique opportunity.
@Anonymous Nicely said.
@jacob CC '13 David Fine, CC’13, has written a thoughtful and powerful response, which can be read here: http://www.columbiaspectator.com/2011/09/14/say-no-ahmadinejad
@Anonymous what are you, his boyfriend or something?
@jacob CC '13 David Fine, CC ’13, has written a powerful and thoughtful response which can be read here: http://www.columbiaspectator.com/2011/09/14/say-no-ahmadinejad
I understand that these comment threads can be cesspools for weak and belligerent arguments…if you want a break from all that, check out Mr. Fine.
@Anarch SEAS '13 I suggest Columbia take away Obama’s BA for continuing American aggression in the Middle East, which has killed far more than 86 dissenters and a gay couple. If we do not want Islamic rule in America, why should the people of the Middle East want American democracy shoved down their gullet. Consider that the entire world may not enjoy sucking down big macs and downloading celebrity sex tapes as much as we do. There was a time when we didn’t feel the urge to impose our conceptions of freedom on the rest of the world. When we starting “freeing the world” we created the Weimar Republic, which made the rise of Nazism practically inevitable. To defeat Nazism we aided a far more dangerous tyrant in Stalin, to defeat the Soviets we funded a mad Arab called Osama bin Laden. We have a great track record. Forward!
@Anonymous David, I mean, Jacob, we’re not interested in your opinion. If you want to criminalize Ahmadinejad, do not do so without first criminalizing our very own leaders, Obama, Bush, Cheney, Clinton, etc. etc. for brainwashing the American people with war propaganda, to kill innocent women and children in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Libya, Syria, let alone other parts of the world. Since when did you suddenly have a heart about two young men, supposedly killed for being homesexual?
@Anonymous ahmadinejad is a weiner
@Talk about yellow journalism “Since taking office in 2005, Ahmadinejad has repeatedly denied the Holocaust and bolstered the development of Iran’s nuclear program against the orders of the UN Security Council. Plus, he was complicit in a rigged election and linked with violent crackdowns on protesters.”
These are all false statements. Where are your sources for such allegations?
Before Ahmadinejad came to speak at Columbia back in 2007, I was under the pretense that he was a vicious person, or you know, the bullshit the media often portrays him to be. However, only minutes into the interview, he was attacked by our own Lee Bollinger, perpetuating the false claims and allegations the media feeds to it’s viewers, and it wasn’t until I heard this man speak, that my views of him completely changed. Instead of barking back at Bollinger, he remained poised and stated that in his country, if he were to invite someone to speak, he would do so honorably, instead of publicly humiliating him. Ahmadinejad is a fine leader, perhaps our leaders should look up to him and learn something from him.
It is without doubt the United State’s foreign policy is clearly fueling the insurgencies especially around the Middle East. It is not to believe that these Muslim states hate Americans because they are free, but it is because the United States is occupying their lands. To think that it is OK that we are in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that Iran does not have a right to defend itself, you’ve got to be joking yourself. WAKE UP people, this is textbook blowback.
@David Fine Please, for the sake of us all, educate yourself:
@From BBC Perhaps this is what Bwog was referring to with the Holocaust statement: Ahmandinejad: “They have created a myth today that they call the massacre of Jews and they consider it a principle above God, religions and the prophets,”
@Precisely my point.. BBC, FOX, NBC, etc., the list is endless. When do we get to hear the other point of view, you know, the correct one?
@and don't try to bullshit me either Because I was there on campus that day he spoke, and the question was addressed as to what his views were towards that fabricated statement, to which Ahmadinejad replied, more studies need to be done on this sensitive issue. The man gets attacked for saying that it is good to study this topic, the problem is, when the word ‘Holocaust’ is brought up, it is a forbidden topic to research.
@Anarch Ahem, critical thinking is “denial”. Don’t question, believe, then act. If any pillar of the Holocaust is put into doubt it could threaten the guilt complex that motivates our foreign policy. Never mind that figure six million was first cited by Ilya Ehrenburg, the Soviet propaganda minister. Never mind that he said it in December of 1944. Not to mention the over-representation of Jewish ethnics among Stalin’s NKVD (unsurprisingly, no Jewish leader has apologized for this, unlike Christian leaders who went to Canossa, excuse me Jerusalem, to apologize even when their Church saved many Jews) . Questioning the numbers means you deny any suffering at all and live in a fantasy world of Good Germans and Bad Jews, as opposed to its inverse fantasy. No historical nuance required, there must be a great bogeyman to goad people into action.
@hmm Given your imputation of arcane “sins” to the Jewish people, and bizarre assumptions of collective culpability, one can safely say that you have no ounce of bigotry or prejudice. A proper progressive you are indeed.
@Anarch I am not a progressive, I could be considered a rightist. I oppose collective guilt, whether it be the collective guilt imposed upon the Germans, and European gentiles in general for their supposed complicity in the Holocaust, or the collective guilt some try to pin on all Jews for communism. However, it cannot be denied that there was a significant Jewish component in the Russian Revolution and during the collectivization created famine in the Ukraine. One really cannot condemn the Ukrainians if they joined SS Einsatzgruppen after Lazar Kaganovich killed between 4 and 10 million of them. Yet, we continue to seek out old men, most of whom are completely innocent, and blame for “collaboration” such as John (Ivan) Demjanjuk, while totally ignoring the crimes of the Soviets. Moreover, while open inquiry into Soviet crimes is legitimate, it is considered beyond the pale to question the extent of German crimes. In addition, the quasi-sacred nature of the Holocaust allows Israel to religiously manipulate America through guilt, against the national interest. Christian Science Monitor reported,”Since 1973, Israel has cost the United States about $1.6 trillion.” If you include the costs of Israel encouraged Middle Eastern adventures it is probably much higher.
@My apologies for giving you a generous upgrade. I just assumed you were a progressive– I didn’t know there were too many closeted Nazi sympathizers among us. Pat Buchanan, Journalism ’62, could that be you?
@Anarch I’m quite flattered that you compared me to Pat Buchanan. Next to Ron Paul, he is probably the bravest Republican since Charles Lindbergh. Unfortunately, the paleo movement is moribund and the past cannot be reconstructed. Rather, I look forward to the collapse of the US Empire as an opportunity for re-evaluating the rotten ideologies of modern age and the rise of new more functional values. Provided we aren’t all killed by the mess we created.
@Yes! Of course. You’d be able to spot a distinction without a difference from a mile away. Ahmadinejad merely suggested the Holocaust was a good topic to “study.” He didn’t mean to dispute its truth. That’s why he sponsored a conference of white supremacists in Tehran and commissioned a collection of Holocaust-themed anti-Semitic cartoons. He never suggested that the Holocaust didn’t occur, or even expressed an opinion. An academic at heart, he merely wanted to encourage more “studies.” And after all, it really is a compelling academic question– the veracity of perhaps the most documented genocide in human history.
@Anonymous “…the veracity of perhaps the most documented genocide in human history.” I wonder why that is.
@yes.ar Because the Nazis scrupulously documented it, like stereotypical Germans.
@Anarch Hmmmm, I wonder why Iran would feel threatened by America. I’m sure it has nothing to do with our presence in the Middle East or support for Israel. These are really insignificant.
Look our presence is really not all that overpowering:
I’m sure Israel isn’t that influential over our government:
No, no reasons at all.
@hmm It takes a great degree of geopolitical sophistication indeed to have the capacity to recognize precisely how Iran is surrounded by enemies but Israel isn’t. Iran, of course, unlike Israel, does not have the benefit of impassable mountain ranges and expansive deserts, vast petroleum reserves large enough to bribe superpowers, hordes of co-religionists on all borders, an automatic majority in the “non-aligned” bloc, and relations with China or Russia. The people of Israel are obliged to be sympathetic.
@Anarch No, Israel has America. That is the problem. If Iran and Israel could take their little squabble outside of our borders instead of into our halls, they could pummel each other and I would not care. Instead, America is subservient to Israel and Iran is furious at it. The true loser is the American taxpayer who has to foot the bill for jumping into a conflict.
@Exactly It is not the interest of the American people to deal with a problem that is thousands of miles away. Israel should deal with it’s own internal matters. The United States should focus it’s matters on national defense and gee idk, how about the falling economy?
@Anonymous israel also has the nuclear bomb.
@Yes. And is it impossible for you to understand the incomparability of Israel’s security predicament to Iran’s– or for that matter to that of any other country in the world? There is an oft-repeated aphorism that loses no truth with repetition. If Israel’s enemies were to dismantle their armies– in this case Iran– Israel would pose them no threat. Indeed, Israel has no interest in anything of Iran’s, has no ambitions in the Persian Gulf or anywhere else beyond its borders– and everyone knows that well. On the other hand, if Israel were to dismantle its army, it would be obliterated in minutes.
@Anonymous did you just suggest that iran should dismantle their army? LOLOLOL
@duh No. I was making an obvious point about the objective of their militarization as opposed to Israel’s.
@Anonymous then why bring up such a stupid what-if of disarming the army? no is asking israel to do that or iran. i think OP’s point regarding israel was LEAVE US THE FUCK ALONE
@Ummmmm no. That’s like saying Columbia is institutionally conservative (because we have CUCR)…and liberal (because we have the CUCD)…and libertarian (you get the picture).
@Anonymous CIRCA is a Columbia-sponsored student group and, by using the Columbia name (and resources like funding, evident from their columbia.edu email address), represents the University in their actions. While the administration didn’t organize this event, by not stopping it, they are implicitly condoning it.
That said, I am totally on the side of having the dinner. In light of PrezBo’s statements about Ahmadinejad and necessity to engage in a dialogue, the University should condone this event.
@Anonymous Karma is a bitch, Prezbo. Enjoy the PR.
@Anonymous for those of you interested in how bwog unfairly censors you, visit bwoguncensored.com
@Anonymous You don’t know what censorship is.
@Anonymous lol wow just use the word ahmadinejad and the jews go batshit crazy..
@Anonymous Ahmadenijad is not just a Jewish issue but a world issue. All people should go “bathsit” over a cruel ruler who gives no rights to women, gays, transgenders, and all other minorities and bluntly calls for the destruction of the country Israel. No person should want to sit down next to a man who funds and supports terrorism. Would you want to sit down for lunch with Saddam Hussein or OBL?
@at least use living examples they’re both dead
@So Sorry they can’t be brought back to life. Now you need to get through to Satan if you want a dinner reservation.
@How about Qaddafi? Would you invite him, or would you refuse because he no longer has admirers?
@Anonymous what is the point of all this? of course i would invite him. unless you came to this university to close your mind and sulk in a corner with people who already conform to your point of view, you shouldn’t have come to columbia. take your agenda elsewhere..
@Anonymous Ahmadinejad is not comparable to saddam hussein or OBL. He’s not even the one with power in that country (that would be the ayatollahs, who are in power thanks to the oppressive corrupt US-supported shah who the CIA throned after overthrowing the democratically elected prime minister of that country in the 50s). Iran as a country and as a people is a far more developed, successful and free society than many other neighbouring countries. there are plenty of countries in this world that give ‘no rights to women, gays, transgenders’. seriously, why would such an obviously ‘muslim’ country give right to ‘gays’ and ‘transgenders’ (which other muslim country does that although plenty do offer some sort of support to transgenders?). do you even hear how you sound?
as for calling for the destruction of israel, that’s a popular myth ( antiwar.com/orig/norouzi.php?articleid=11025). please check your facts.
@Anonymous I’m confused. If several muslim countries deny civil rights and blatantly abuse several groups within their populations, that makes it okay? I don’t think so, but I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.
@Anonymous The point: there are plenty of rulers from oppressive, gay-bashing, anti-feminist nations with whom you probably wouldn’t mind having dinner.
@Actually No, I would prefer to not have dinner with any oppressive dictators. It was a rather bizarre assumption for you to make that I enjoy having dinner with human-rights-violating government officials, especially considering that I made it fairly clear that I find them reprehensible.
@Anonymous no it doesn’t make it okay. no one is talking about okay. i’m asking if you would be okay with invading those 50 countries too? where do you draw the line? what about the countries in africa that have even more brutal dictators than anything saddam did?
@Anonymous Issues aren’t solved by ignoring them
@Evil is not solved by acceptance.
@Anonymous acknowledgement is not acceptance.
@aha Prezbo’s introduction was something of an acknowledgment. What you people– those who objected to those remarks– want is called acceptance.
@Anonymous no people who didn’t object to those remarks want acceptance. those who did were shocked at the lack of civility and rudeness displayed, characteristic of a high school debate and not of the lofty halls of academia.
@aha Acceptance = inclusion without confrontation
@Jason Grimsley “The Columbia International Relations Council and Association”
@JZ Marlon Brando look-alikes?