Protesting Ahmadinejad

Posters in Barnard's campus.

Reading through the New York Sun last Thursday, I found out that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was speaking at the World Leaders Forum at Columbia University. Excited about this event, I asked my sister (Barnard '11) if she could try to get me into the event. Alas, being that he is the president of Iran, one of the most-discussed countries in international affairs and journalism today, the event was filled up long before school started.

Freedom of speech thrives at Columbia and New York Cityit's the home of the infamous 1968 strikes against the expansion of Columbia University into Morningside Heights (which is still a dilemma today) and the Vietnam War, students reacting against professors imposing their anti-Zionist views in the classrooms, even Ahmadinejad himself was supposed to speak at Columbia last year, but his invitation was revoked the professor incidences.

Coming from New School University where everything is something to protest against or rally for (Bob Kerrey is a war criminal; opposing the campus master plan and new GF/signature building; etc.), I've become used to this. Hell, the New School was formed out of dissent from Columbia University.

The New York Sun, the New York Daily News and Columbia/Barnard students are completely scandalized that Columbia would even extend an invitation to Ahmadinejad. Protests are planned for throughout the campus for today. This, though, is the wrong approach. While I understand everything the paranoid and extremely religious Iranian President has done and stands for, I still want to hear what he has to say. Isn't that what diplomacy is all about? If you denied someone the right to speak just because you didn't agree with their beliefs, then the world would be pretty boring. This is one of the flaws of Eugene Langeveryone tends to share the same viewpoints, so debates aren't very common. The New School went through similar experiences with John McCain at the 2006 graduation and Newt Gingrinch at New School's Milano School, where McCain was booed and someone pulled a fire alarm during Gingrich's speech. What's the point of causing a ruckus? It's just disrespectful and paints you as immature. Don't protest, just listen, ask questions and have an actual conversation. Most people and media outlets blame Columbia University President Lee Bollinger for inviting Ahmadinejad, but it was a smart move on Bollinger's part. Ahmadinejad is speaking at the World Leader's Forum, and he is world leader, isn't he?

Hopefully, as the Columbia Spectator reports, the protests won't be as turbulent as predicted, and hopefully, students will understand the importance of hearing all voices, despite what their views and pasts might hold.