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Iranian President’s Columbia University Visit Stirs DebateTim King Salem-News.com
The Controversial leader will be questioned about his denial of the Holocaust and his call for the destruction of the State of Israel.
(SALEM, Ore.) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one of the world's most notorious and controversial national leaders, will speak and participate in a question and answer session today at Columbia University’s World Leaders Forum.
But many at Columbia say he should be received in good faith, and that his choice to participate in the forum represents a rare and opportunity for those who seek to know more about an otherwise mysterious and worrisome world character. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a person whose decision could have a huge impact on the world.
Ahmadinejad had asked to visit Ground Zero where he could lay a wreath, to show respect, but his request was denied. He also was told he could not visit Disneyworld, and other popular American venues.
Critics like FOX News ask why the law school won't allow an ROTC program to be part of its curriculum, but they will allow Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, "one of America’s avowed enemies," in the words of FOX, onto its campus. They also criticize the fact that the militant border vigilante group "Minutemen" was denied an appearance at Columbia.
It is hard to deny that some political factions seem determined to keep Americans in the dark and unaware of the way people like Ahmadinejad may really feel about certain issues.
Perhaps this man who reportedly said the Holocaust is "fiction" will say he was taken out of context with that statement, or maybe he will reassert the ridiculous point during the forum. Either way, Americans will be more educated at the end of the day, and this controversial man will have an opportunity to enjoy the unfiltered free speech of the United States of America. It never hurts to be cordial and if nothing else, take an opportunity to get to know your enemy.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's appearance is sponsored by Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, which is initiating a year-long series of lectures and events on thirty years of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The SIPA lecture series will include academic experts as well as former officials and critics of the Islamic Republic.
Columbia President Lee Bollinger says this opportunity for faculty and students to engage the President of Iran came about after Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee at the Iranian Mission to the United Nations initiated contact with Columbia through a member of the faculty, Richard Bulliet, who is a specialist on Iran. The university is only opening the event to students, faculty and staff with Columbia University identification and their invited guests.
Bollinger emphasized that such World Leaders Forum events must allow ample time for students and faculty to pose questions that challenge the views expressed by the speakers.
John H. Coatsworth, Dean of the School of International and Public Affairs, confirmed that the Iranian president had agreed to this format. Dean Coatsworth will moderate the question and answer period following Ahmadinejad’s speech.
The US government has accused Ahmadinejad’s government of supporting terrorism and developing nuclear weapons capacity. Human rights groups have charged Iran with suppressing dissent and women’s rights. Columbia students and faculty will themselves have an opportunity to question Iran’s leader on these and other issues.
Dean Coatsworth stated that “Opportunities to hear, challenge, and learn from controversial speakers of different views are central to the education and training of students for citizenship in a shrinking and still dangerous world. This is especially true for SIPA students, many of whose careers will require them to confront human rights and security issues throughout the globe.”
But on Sunday, another Columbia dean, David Schizer who heads the law school, joined Jewish groups and others in criticizing the invitation extended to Ahmadinejad.
"Although we believe in free and open debate at Columbia and should never suppress points of view, we are also committed to academic standards," Schizer said in a statement to JTA News. "A high-quality academic discussion depends on intellectual honesty but, unfortunately, Mr. Ahmadinejad has proven himself, time and again, to be uninterested in whether his words are true."
President Bollinger says he will introduce the event by challenging President Ahmadinejad on a number of his controversial statements and his government’s policies, including his denial of the Holocaust and his call for the destruction of the State of Israel.
Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with almost twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist and reporter. Today, in addition to his role as a war correspondent in Afghanistan where he spent the winter of 2006/07, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website, affiliated only with Google News. You can send Tim an email at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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