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