September 26, 2007

Ahmadinejad: Provocative or Uneducated?

WHILE PRESIDENT Lee Bollinger's introductory remarks were surprisingly and pleasantly harsh towards Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, they still did not undue what Charles Krauthammer called “the original sin,” of inviting Ahmadinejad to speak in the first place. Bollinger, however, also devoted much of his remarks to defending the University's invitation on free speech grounds.

But only Americans have rights to free speech in the United States, not terrorist-supporting, genocide-inciting, Holocaust-denying scum like Ahmadinejad. Students do have what Bollinger called a "right to listen," but it doesn't seem like they could have learnt anything. Bollinger correctly doubted whether Ahmadinejad would have intellectual courage to answer questions from Bollinger or the audience. As Bollinger also said, Ahmadinejad is "either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated." And after listening to Ahmadinejad's speech, one is forced to wonder: is he rallying the Arabs around anti-Jewish hatred or actually "astonishingly uneducated."

Instead of plainly denying the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad instead called for more research on the subject from a different perspective. His example of the need for more research was: "our friends refer 1930 as the point of departure for this development, but I believe from what we read the Holocaust happened in World War II." (He prefaced the statement with "if given the holocaust happened . . . ").

Ahmadinejad spoke as if he actually did not understand that the Holocaust is perhaps the most researched event in modern, if not all of history. That there is insurmountable evidence of the Holocaust: biographies of those who died, testimony from survivors in the form of stories and numbers tattooed to their arms, of footage from the Nazi's themselves, of death camps that stand to this day. Furthermore, the only other perspective he seemed to be suggesting was that of those who are jailed in Europe for denying the Holocaust, which Ahmadinejad thought was unfair.

There was one thing students could learn from Ahmadinejad: the art of misinformation, specifically the pivot. At Columbia and in interviewers elsewhere, Ahmadinejad employs this old and simple trick with ease. For example, he was asked whether his country aims at the destruction of Israel. He answered he thinks the Palestinians should decide the fate of the area. The moderator then said he thinks the students want a more specific answer. Ahmadinejad then reiterated that Iran's proposal is for a referendum by the Palestinians. The moderator then asked for a yes or no answer. Ahmadinejad then did not answer but pivoted and focused the question back on the moderator, stating that asking for the answers in such a way does not encourage free speech. Ahmadinejad then posed his own question to the moderator, asking whether the Palestinian issue is an international one. The moderator answered yes and moved on.

Another example of this was in interview with 60 Minutes on Sunday. Reporter Scott Pelley told Ahmadinejad: "But when I ask you a question as direct as 'Will you pledge not to test a nuclear weapon?' you act, you dance all around the question. You never say 'Yes.' You never say 'No." Ahmadinejad then replied "Well, thank you for that. You are like a CIA investigator." Pelley answered: "I am just a reporter. I am a simple average American reporter."

Because Ahmadinejad was not persistently challenged, he was able to frame the issues as he wanted, presenting only the facts he wanted. For example, he claimed without challenge that Israel is the source of instability in the Middle East in the last 60 years and that prior to the creation of the State of Israel, the Arabs of Palestine lived in peace with Jewish and Christian communities there. But perhaps that all depends on Ahmadinejad's definition of "peace."