With Ahmadinejad scheduled to speak twice today, once downtown at the U.N. and once four blocks away from me at Columbia, I wanted to share my own thoughts on the protests and on the visit itself.
I think it’s great that Ahmadinejad is speaking at Columbia. The man is a monster, and he’s shaping global politics. College students grapple with intellectual problems in books, but this is a rare opportunity for 20-year-old kids to question a powerful world leader with whom they vehemently disagree. And he has to sit there and answer, or at least listen to, the questions! People who yell that he’s taking advantage of our free speech when he doesn’t allow it in his own country are missing the point. He HAS a platform to say whatever the hell he wants in his own country, uncontested, and everyone has to listen to him. Here, his audience gets to talk back, to fire questions at him, to tell truth to power. This isn’t his taking advantage, it’s our opportunity.
Where I have the problem is the other half of the visit: his speech before the U.N. I hate that this monster has an opportunity to speak before world leaders and diplomats. I hate that he has enough clout that we have to negotiate issues of terrorism, pollution, economic policy with him, that our government will have to offer concessions and work with his agenda if they want to contain or mitigate the damage he can do. I wish that we could relegate him to the position of intellectual exercise for college students. And maybe that’s what the protest is really about: not Ahmadinejad speaking at Columbia, but the larger fact that we can’t change, that, monster that he is, he is powerful enough that we actually have to negotiate with him.