Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ahmadinejad in New York City: A Lost Opportunity

Once more a golden opportunity was lost while we looked on with disbelieve and dismay. Mahmud Ahmadinejad was back to our beloved city, the capital of money, politics and noise. He was received with a blast of the harshest insults and rudeness and bowed to all of them with his tough skin and dazed look and semi-vicious smile. He gave a lengthy speech with zero content in the Iranian gathering at the Hilton Hotel on September 23. He gave a much more blown out of proportion talk in Columbia University the next day and the United Nation the day after that. He was on Charley Rose and Sixty Minutes. He was not permitted to pay his respects to the victim of 9/11, but was given an ample platform to repeat the typical diatribes of the conservative Islamic Republic of Iran.

In the Hilton Hotel’s iftar party some two thousand Iranian gathered. His talk was more or less a repetition of his last year’s speech—how good we were, how good we are, and how good we always will be, we the Iranian people. It is striking that in the whole speech there was not a word of the Islamic Republic or the Iranian government, as if there were no such animals; instead, we the nation of Iran and the Iranian people were present from seven thousand ears ago till now in our full majesty. We all like it though we all knew that our seven thousand years of majestic life would be diminished as soon as he got into his airplane and headed for Tehran.

Things were more chaotic in Columbia University. Thousand of students had rallied against his presence there and criticized the president of the Columbia University for inviting him. The placards bore all sorts of messages, calling him evil, a dictator, Hitler, a criminal, and a terrorist.

It seems that President Bollinger had given in to the conservative students, and I believe, to the trustees as well, and did something quite uncommon for a president of an Ivy League university; he was rude and arrogant and insulting. But Ahmadinejad took all the insults and went up onto the stage with same vapid smile and glazed expression and repeated the same rhetoric and laughed and made some of the people laugh along with him.

Attaollah Mohajerani wrote an article in his blog which was published in Rooz on Line and quoted the Israeli daily Haaretz to the effect that the real loser in all this was the Israel. He also noted that Bollinger did not gain anything by insulting Ahmadinejad with his unconventional insolence and ranged him second among the losers, following Israel, since he gave Ahmadinejad some sympathy for being the underdog.

I was invited to the NY1 cable television news program “Inside the City Hall” on September 24, following the Columbia University president’s speech. My reaction to it was one of dismay and bewilderment. I recalled Ronald Reagan when he called the Iranians a barbaric nation over the hostage crisis. Well, I was not sure that it was appropriated to use the word on television, I suffice to express my disbelief in what I had just heard and how unbecoming if was of the President of Columbia to talk that way, regardless who the guest speaker was. I wondered why they invited him at all; they could have cancelled his invitation and then called him whatever they wanted. But how on earth does one invite someone and tell him to his face that he is stupid, illiterate, a dictator and small?

However, what bothered me the most was the fact that another opportunity had been lost to confront this insolent people for whom nothing penetrates. The Islamic Republic is left there alone and the international community, if there is such thing at all, is somehow silent regarding their treatment of their citizens. Human rights are totally ignored, women’s rights are ignored, minorities are ignored and they are as harshly discriminated against as can be. The laws of the sharia, which are incompatible with the standards of human rights, are imposed where ever possible. Luckily Iranians in many cases follow their own traditions and culture and continue to tailor their conduct accordingly to avoid further confrontation. However, social life requires some sort of lawfulness, which is totally missing. The Islamic Republic, in spite of its democratic structure and the appearance of checks and balances, by excluding the majority of Iranians, i.e., those who are not considered Islamic enough, does not have the legitimacy of a representative government.

The advent of the internet and satellite communications has made it impossible for the government to keep the public from access to information to a great extent and that is another factor which gives a false appearance of some sort of freedom of expression, other wise the regime would be as totalitarian as the Baghdad caliphs. However, the socio-economic facts of life, along with the geopolitical situation of the country has rendered it immune from many compromises that other neighboring country are asked to make.

Once a year when an Iranian delegation comes to the United Nation, an opportunity arises for all of us to meet these people out of their safe cocoons. We all have a hope that while the whole world is watching they would appear to give an account of what they are doing. We all are hopeful they would be asked questions that they had ignored while they were back home. It is with this hope we wait for September in New York every year. Alas, from the time the Iranian Delegation was led by Princess Ashraf, the Shah of Iran’s sister, to this September with our president Ahmadinejad as the head of the delegation, our hopes have been dashed.

Mohajerani is just deluding himself to think that the losers are the Israel and Columbia University. The real loser is us, the Iranian people whose name was use at least fifty times during Ahmadinejad’s speeches on every occasion. We Iranian people are waiting for a miracle of justice everywhere, but all we received so far has been nothing but watching and waiting. We lost our chances one more time when the President of Columbia University acted unwisely and got lost in the traffic of insults and the competition of rudeness. I wished he would have remind as worthy as the head of the institution of such caliber and would not have given him such an opportunity to answer a question with question, not to have given him a chance to play victim, not to have given him a chance to lie and not to have given him a chance to dodge every question. There are the clips of films of the bloody demonstrations in which women in the streets were beaten and abused by police either for peaceful gathering or so-called bad hejabs. There are photographs of the prisoners who are tortured badly. The famous photograph of the young student whose back is carves by knife reading “Tir 18” is such a convincing document and the photographs of Daryoush and Parvaneh Forouhar’s bodies cut to the pieces are more convincing than any other verbal accusation. The students could have covered the walls with all these undeniable documents and instead of all these insults we could have invited him to explain. Just explain. For three days, instead of all the sensationalizing propaganda about why he wants to wipe Israel from the world map, we could have asked him in what position and capacity he wants to do so, and if he has any, what is his time frame. I do recall last year when President Khatami came to the United States and very clearly said in various interviews as the former president of Iran that the foreign policy of Iran is not solely in the hand of the president, indeed his weight in these matters is very insignificant. He could have been asked if he is up to his claims. A few credible dissidents could have confronted him with the fact that he does not even have any constituency in Iran and, with only one year left of his presidency, was in no position to make good on his threats. Instead of calling him Hitler we should have let him show himself a Don Quixote.

President Bollinger saved his position and did what the conservative students and the board of trustees wanted him to do. The American media was happy for a few days; they were hosting evil and his ensemble and it sold well. The students had a little excitement for a change and experienced something which is alien in this country, street talk over politics. Ahmadijnjad found a chance to sing his songs, Comedy Central comedians found good bits for their sketches. And we, the Iranian people, are left with a pang of pain in our heart. We, the Iranian people, here or at home, were the real losers.

And lastly Kian Tajbakhsh (a Columbia University alumnus) got out of prison just the day Ahmadinejad came here, but women, students, activists and journalists are rotting in jail.

1 comment:

Nazy said...

Ah, Beautiful and Intelligent Mina:

You say it so perfectly my dear. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post about this botched effort at "Freedom of Speech" and "Academic Dialogue." In the way Bollinger and Ahmadinejad each handled themselves, opportunities for humanity and a way out were lost yet again. My expectations of Ahmadinejad are so low, nothing he can say and do fazes me any longer. Columbia and Bollinger were another story. Selling out was Columbia's mission, and it was accomplished.

Thank you for your as usual thorough and deep analysis. You are my pride. Be good azizam.