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The lessons of Ahmadinejad at Columbia
By Jerry Mazza
As I walked up Broadway towards Columbia University, a dozen blocks from my apartment, I was amazed to see crowds of students cramming into the campus, protesting outside the gates, and ample numbers of New York’s finest, who already had locked down the campus to anyone who didn’t have a student ID card. Eureka, it almost felt like the Columbia protests (riots) of 1968.
But then students were battling a military-oriented think tank from the Rand Corporation, starting in 1967. Discovery of the Institute for Defense Analyses’ presence in ’67 and ’68 lit the firecracker for SDS's (Students for a Democratic Society) anti Vietnam War campaign. Also, too many armed forces’ recruiters on campus fanned the BOOM to come.
Linked to that mistake was Columbia’s plan to build a gymnasium in city-owned Morningside Park, on land to be used for low-cost housing in neighboring Harlem. The front door would open towards Columbia, the back door to Harlem. What can I say: BOOM.
Mark Rudd and his SDS protestors ended up occupying several buildings and notably the president’s office in Low Library. The cops came in the early morning hours of April 30, 1968, and violently squashed the demonstrations. One hundred-fifty students were hurt and headed to hospitals. Seven hundred protestors were arrested. And the president of Columbia resigned. Those were the days, my dear, as Lotte Lenya would sing. Those were the days.
Ah, but today such a different song was being sung. The crowds were mainly pro-Israel groups from Columbia and bussed in from neighboring colleges. They were out for blood. They didn’t want the “holocaust denier” to speak in the first place. He was a sponsor of "terror," unlike, of course, the United States and its 160,000 troops plus mercenaries in Iraq. Also, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was an “anti-Semite” because he did not approve of the state of Israel, which had inhaled Palestine, as the Nazis had the ghettos of Lodz, Krakow and Warsaw, not to mention most of Europe.
Worst of all, Ahmadinejad was pursuing what he said to be a program for nuclear power, but the protestors knew with absolute assurance it was for weaponry. Not unlike the 200 to 300 nuclear missiles Israel had built since the '80s at their Dimona facility. It contained an underground plutonium separation plant that operated in complete secrecy. That is, until Israeli whistleblower Mordecai Vanunu, who worked at Dimona from 1976-85, spilled the beans on October 5, 1986 in the Sunday Times of London. Read all about it my article, Israel’s nuclear double standard is no standard at all. It’s an eye-opener.
It also details the fact that while Israel was amassing nuclear warheads in 1981, the US had successfully managed to convince its then-boy, Saddam Hussein, to attack Iran, beginning an eight-year war that yielded a million dead and 2 million displaced. This was also around the time Israel’s Menachim Begin decided to bomb a French-built nuclear plant near Baghdad, which was supposedly building nuclear weapons to destroy Israel. This was also the world’s first air strike against a nuclear plant.
But then there were “an undisclosed number of American built F-15 interceptors and F-16 fighter bombers to help destroy the Osirak reactor 18 miles south of Baghdad" on Begin’s order. And the Israeli/American planes all returned safely. Yet the 70-megawattt uranium-powered reactor wasn’t even finished nor “had it been stocked with nuclear fuel so there was no danger of a leak, according to sources in the French atomic industry.” Again, the reactor was to create energy for living not for death.
It is strange, too, that the US took part in this violent Israeli exercise, and stranger, as Ahmadinejad pointed out later, that “if you have created the fifth generation of atomic bombs and tested them already, what position are you [the US] in to question the peaceful purposes of others who want nuclear power? We don’t believe in nuclear weapons, period. It goes against the whole grain of humanity.” He added that politicians interested in nuclear weapons “are backward, retarded.” So for all the sanctimonious Mahmoud-haters who came to Columbia for an Oxbow-type hanging, sorry. if the shoes fits wear it.
In answer to what would it take for Iran to engage in talks with the United States, Ahmadinejad said, “If the US government recognizes the rights of the Iranian people, respects all nations and extends a hand of friendship to all Iranians, they will see that Iranians will be among their best friends.” I would say that is a very generous response from the president of a nation who had its democratically elected President Mossadeq taken down by a violent coup in 1953. Why? Because he wanted to nationalize Iran’s oil and spread the wealth among his people.
As Iran stood then, 4 percent of its population controlled the majority of its wealth. Of course, Mossadeq was politically neutered by no less than Kermit Roosevelt and the CIA, so that the young Shah and his royal court could resume power and inhale the wealth and America could continue to get its oil. It was the oppression, the torture squads, the murders of the Shah’s retinue that led to his deposing in 1979, his statue pulled down by protestors as Saddam Hussein’s was by US soldiers.
In that year, the US-backed Shah and family flew the coop and exiled cleric Ayatollah Khomeini returned to establish the Islamic Republic of Iran. Does that sound so cruel and unreasonable? I don’t think so. The revolutionaries also stormed the American Embassy in Tehran and took the staff as hostages. As the standing president, Jimmy Carter was negotiating for their freedom, the would-be president, Ronald Reagan, and his running mate, George H.W. Bush, were negotiating a better deal for arms, ammunition, spare parts, and cash with the Iranians, so long as they would not release the hostages until after the election. Of course, the deal was taken. Carter lost. Reagan/Bush won. And the whole dirty (and treasonous) affair was later exposed in the Iran-Contra scandal.
Am I the only one with a history book or a memory? Or am I missing something. Don’t these loons shouting for Ahmadinejad to go home know anything? Or is it the self-inflicted amnesia it takes to be a died-in-the-wool supporter of Israeli occupation? The Balfour Declaration, which we all know opened the door by British invitation for Jewish people to settle in Palestine (and bring your wealth with you; there are all kinds of bargains).
The League of Nations ratified the Palestine Mandate in 1920, after World War I, due in part to the help of the Jewish chemist Cheim Weizman. In 1922, under pressure from the Arabs, the Brits and League of Nations subtracted Jordan. In 1947, the UN offered the Partition Plan, but the Arabs rejected it. When the UN recognized Israel as a nation on May 14, 1948, the Arabs declared war on Israel. The rest is an unrelenting brutal history of Palestinian domination. It is also ironic that the truly anti-Semitic British also created the Edict of Expulsion, given by Edward I of England in 1290 that exiled the Jews of England for 350 years. That’s right, 350 years.
So, was the Balfour Declaration the British Day of Atonement, or simply the theft of a land via Jewish occupation that they had always, along with the French, had their greedy eyes on? But these questions perhaps are better discussed at a Columbia seminar on Middle Eastern history. Nevertheless, they affected all Arabs and Muslims, including Mr. Ahmadinejad. Perhaps his not recognizing Israel is as he said is more “because it is based on ethnic discrimination, occupation and usurpation and it consistently threatens its neighbors.”
Perhaps that’s why he answered the second question of the day, denying that his country sponsors terrorism, by saying, “We need to address the root causes of terrorism and eradicate those root causes,” adding that in the Middle East, “It’s clear what powers incite terrorists, support them, fund them.” To whom do you think he was referring?
What’s more his stance on holocaust research and investigation was softened somewhat as well. Not that all such horrendous crimes shouldn’t be reinvestigated and verified over and over to keep the knowledge alive. Nevertheless, in response to holocaust issues, he said “ . . . We need to still question whether the Palestinian people should be paying for it [the holocaust] or not. After all it happened in Europe. The Palestinian people had no role in it. Why is it that the Palestinian people are paying the price for an event they had nothing to do with?
“They had no role to play in World War II. They were living with the Jewish and Christian communities in peace at the time. They didn’t have any problems. Today, too, Jews, Christians and Muslims live in brotherhood in many parts of the world. Why is it that Palestinians should pay a price -- innocent Palestinians -- for 5 million people to remain displaced and refugees abroad for 60 years? Why should an academic like myself face insults for asking questions like this.”
Interestingly, Ahmadinejad, in addition to being president of Iran, still considers his main job as a university instructor. He said, “I still continue teaching graduate and Ph.D.-level courses on a weekly basis. My students are working with me in scientific fields. I believe that I am an academic myself, so I speak to you from an academic point of view. And I raise two questions. But instead of a response, I got a wave of insults and allegations against me. And regretfully, they came mostly from groups who claimed most to believe in the freedom of speech and information.”
Could he have been referring to Lee C. Bollinger, the university’s president, who on one hand invited Ahmadinejad’s presence, on the other claimed his guest called for the destruction of Israel and termed the holocaust a myth? In addressing the Iranian president, Bollinger said, “You exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator,” garnering a round of crowd-pleasing applause.
Bollinger, in an attempted critique of Ahmadinejad’s holocaust positions, called him “either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated,” among other things, once more playing to the crowd, which spread from the Roone Arledge auditorium to the quad, where all comments could be heard on loudspeakers. All must have heard Ahmadinejad invite Columbia faculty to speak in his country as well and ask the questions they wished to ask.
Returning to Bollinger, he called Columbia a world center of Jewish studies that since the 1930s has provided a home for Jewish refugees. He went on to call the holocaust “the most documented event in human history.” I suppose the birth of Christ, Mohammed or the life of Moses and his gift of the Ten Commandments all took second place. If I didn’t know better, and perhaps I don’t, I would say that Bollinger was blatantly pandering to his Jewish audience, covering his butt above and beyond serving as self-appointed moral compass for Iran.
Mr. Bollinger also assailed Ahmadinejad for a poor human rights record and the forced retirement of scholars. Perhaps Mr. Bollinger in his academic ivory tower hasn’t heard of the USAPATRIOT Act, or that our president considers the Constitution "just a piece of goddamn paper," and that Professor Steven Jones, among many, was relieved of his university tasks for contedning that the World Trade Center Towers were blown up with the explosive thermate.
Mr. Bollinger may also not be aware of the shameless NSA spying on telephone calls and email messages of Americans for years now. Perhaps he hasn’t heard of Guantanamo, which denies the rights of the Geneva Conventions to prisoners of war simply by calling them "enemy combatants." And then there’s the rendition of “suspected terrorists” to foreign countries specializing in torture. And so on. Mr. Ahmadinejad did point out the spying to Bollinger.
He also responded to Bollinger’s initial slurs thusly: “At the outset, I want to complain a bit about the person who read this political statement against me. In Iran, tradition requires that when we invite a person to be a speaker, we actually respect our students and the professors by allowing them to make their own judgment and we don’t think it’s necessary before a speech is even given to come with a series of claims . . ." After a burst of applause, he added: “ . . . and an attempt to provide a vaccination of sorts to our faculty and students. The text, more than addressing me, was an insult to the audience here. In a university environment, we must allow people to speak their mind, to allow everyone to talk, so that the truth is eventually revealed by all.”
Lastly, it is interesting that Columbia University itself is something of a land-grabber, now contemplating to inhale most of the Upper West Side property beyond 125th Street for the creation of a new campus. Bollinger himself was selling the idea hard on NY1News, our local station, several nights earlier. Of course, this takeover is of land and property inhabited by Hispanic and African-American New Yorkers, shadows of the Morningside Gymnasium, only exponentially larger. Somehow it seemed history was repeating itself listening to Lee’s soft but hard sell to the black interviewer, who kept bringing it back to, “what’s in it for the community?”
The answers were mostly “money, jobs, some scholarships to an on-campus public school.” But the urge to colonize more of the city was vaguely cloying to me. As was the concurrent urge of New York University in Greenwich Village. Two of their noted trustees and graduates included the reprobates Larry Silverstein and Hank Greenberg, formerly CEO of AIG.
I mention this because I feel the impulse of this admittedly Jewish-centered educational organization, in fact both of them, a kind of colonizing of educational agenda, shaping young minds like the real estate into extensions of a philosophy of exclusionism, not the real academic, democratic ideal. Columbia, in fact, includes the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, which abuts its campus. Where is the Center for Muslim Studies, Buddhist Studies, and so on, which would represent far greater numbers of people in today’s world.
As a vocal minority of 5.5 million of America’s 304 million citizens, I find it strange, even somewhat chilling, that the Jewish people demand, command, so much political clout. When our forefathers asked for a separation of church and state, they meant all religious institutions, synagogues, mosques, et al. Now I see a minority group exerting an unparalleled influence on politics, education, and thought, equal at least to the daft Conservative Christians, who make up the dafter neocon core behind the march for world hegemony with their Israeli cousins.
I am personally happy that Ahmadinejad spoke back for all of us to power, including Israel, the US, and dual-Israeli/American citizens, who it would seem insist on applying their religious-political agendas worldwide, regardless of history’s lessons. Perhaps after all is said and done, this was Ahmadinejad’s lesson to us all. It’s a pity we didn’t give him a chance to “show his respect” at Ground Zero. It has yet to be convincingly proven to myself and millions like me that the real culprits behind that catastrophe were Muslims. Perhaps a more open public mind would let some more light in.
Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer living in New York. Reach him at email@example.com.
All statements from Columbia’s meeting were taken from the NY Times real-time blog and video recording of the event.