By Saswat Pattanayak
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Columbia University was arguably the most important step taken by a world leader to initiate the global peace that is so much needed in the clearly terrorized world we live in.
Ahmadinejad is a leader of significant importance—chief of a major country and representative of a major world religion-- who was humble enough to accept a university invitation, and tolerant enough to appear in front of the most hostile audience that any academic institute in the world could feel ashamed of. And despite the odds, he was clearly on a mission: to promote the spirit of peace and open the road to desirable dialogue.
So, how was he received at the Land of the Free? First, the New York City Mayor displayed his level of arrogance by refusing Ahmadinejad a visit to 9/11 memorial site. Second, the Columbia University President exhibited unparalleled level of ignorance by verbally abusing the Iranian President. Third, the American President bathed in his self glory by refusing to entertain any possibility of any urgent dialogue.
Columbia: Elite University, Elitist Mindsets:
Columbia University characterized the drama usually associated with the great American Hypocrisy that has led to several wars and ideological confrontations during past many decades. One important way in which the First World countries have justified their position as regards to Freedom of Speech is by boasting about it. To prove that America allows freedom of speech, American administration needs to allow a certain amount of dissent to take place. Both the dissent and the freedom then have to be televised appropriately. Finally, the melodramatic confrontations are then needed to be compared with the economically subjugated world so as to prove an innate superiority in the methods of the free world.
In Ahmadinejad’s visit, all the above aspects were clearly evident. First, he was invited by Columbia University as the speaker. He was invited despite vehement protests from various student groups. This proved the spirit of tolerance that American democracy boasts of. However, critically deconstructing such an obvious reflection, one would fathom that the real reason why he was invited was not so much as “despite”, as was “because” of the protests from various groups of people. He was invited to speak on campus, because of the amount of controversy it would generate. And clearly, Columbia University did not do anything to stop the protests. Indeed, it advertised on its website additional permissions to student groups to create the noise and requested the community to bear with the protests which would continue for the entire day. Such vehement noisy protests where anyone could attribute any ghastly name to another country’s chief showcased a circus that was well planned and organized. Students and other social groups were not protesting against Columbia University (which they could have legitimately done by asking people to boycott a visit to the campus), rather they were enjoying the centrestage of press attention by using placards that could allow them to equate Ahmadinejad with Hitler and use any amount of vulgar slangs to denounce Iranian politics. In a country where peace marchers including octogenarian peacenik grandmothers are imprisoned because of silent protests, the rowdy behaviors from various “free speech” and student groups in front of a university was in fact encouraged.
Why was Ahmadinejad invited to the campus if the university was well aware that there would be thousands of people on the streets to protest? It was because the university was not afraid that they will lose reputation. It was not because the university was going to be boycotted. Not because students who resent Ahmadinejad were going to dissuade potential applicants from joining the campus. After all, a university which invites a “Hitler” naturally was going to be branded as anti-semite and was going to get bad press, and was going to be mocked at. The university was going to lose its own face by inviting someone whom many people on campus considered or even studied as a dictator.
Then why did the Columbia University invite someone as a chief guest who was so deeply hated by many in the campus community? In fact, Ahmadinejad was unique because he was (and continues to be) hated by both conservatives and liberals alike. Even several Free Speech coalitions did not have kind words for him. None of the politically correct historians had good thoughts about him. None of the civil rights organizations thought Ahmadinejad should be tolerated.
Lee Bollinger’s speech answered why: Calling the Iranian President “brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated”, even before allowing him an audience, the Columbia University professor proved the invitation was premeditated to be insulting. “You exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator,” Bollinger called Ahmadinejad. It was with the sole purpose of insulting the Iranian head that Ahmadinejad was invited to speak. The spirit of sheer hatred continued as stealth mockery found resonance throughout Bollinger’s long introduction.
Lee Bollinger who in the mask of being a free speech advocate (Michigan Affirmative Action champion) went all the way to demonstrate how utterly vulgar and autocratic he could be. A proclaimed “free-speech” advocate, Bollinger not only did not feel sorry about Ahmadinejad not being granted the freedom to visit 9/11 site, but he went one step further. Even before Ahmadinejad could speak on his “defense”, the Columbian professor went on verbally attacking the Iranian head as befitting a liar, idiot, rogue and conman.
Bollinger said a number of Columbian graduates were the brave fighters serving the American troop in Iraq. That was spoken in order to praise the American war against the Iraqi people! He asked Iranian President on their behalf why “Iran is fighting a proxy war in Iraq killing US troops”. Whether it is a proxy war that Iran is fighting in Iraq is a matter of dispute. What, however has been true is that the US fought an unjust war in Iraq and American troops caused much military misconduct that have been quite extensively recorded in recent past. What the Columbia University President should have done was to apologize on behalf of the infamous troop that has caused much distress to the world citizenry by its brazen inhuman treatment of peaceful civilians. Even after prison tortures, and civilian rapes committed by American troops (yes the same “brave” Columbian graduates as cohorts), the highly educated and informed professor proved his agenda of falsehoods and pretensions time and again.
Bollinger continued with his series of malicious attacks that were not evidenced nor called for. He brought to the fore the issue of Iran’s nuclear deal, which suggested his lack of awareness about the matter. Contrary to his accusations against Iran as a country working to create an unsafe world, the UN’s agency (International Atomic Energy Agency) has been in close collaboration with Iran and has found no such threats as being decried by the professor. Inviting a guest, and accusing him and the country he leads in highly derogatory terms and verbally abusing him as insane and unintelligent without even having evidence or knowledge to back up marked the genius of Bollinger. Who does Bollinger quote to support his opinions? French president Sarkozy – a right wing conservative—who apparently has lost patience (according to Bollinger) with Iran. Did such trivial information make sense in an introductory speech provided to “welcome” an international guest?
Bollinger then asked Ahmadinejad, “Why have you made the people of your country vulnerable to sanctions?” If Bollinger had any sense of empathy or understanding, he could have instead asked why do the first world powers foster vulnerable conditions for Iranian civilians. In an unsurpassed level of academic elitism that should ideally call for much loath and disgrace, Professor Bollinger outdid his sense of self-glorification by finally challenging the head of state of Iran to respond to his speech: “Let me close with a comment. Frankly and in all candor, Mr President, I doubt you have the intellectual courage to answer these questions but your avoiding them will in itself be meaningful to us. I do expect you to exhibit the fanatical mindset that characterizes so much of what you say and do…I am only a professor who is also a university president, but today I feel all the weight of the modern civilized world yearning to express the revulsion of what you stand for. I only wish I could do better.”
A huge section of Columbia University audience cheered and clapped to their president’s hate speech and waited gleefully for Ahmadinejad to fail the test. In contrast to the obviously arrogant speech of Bollinger, Ahmadinejad’s talk was pensive, thoughtful, full of insights. Ahmadinejad asserted that he was still an instructor at a university and as an instructor he strived for the whole truth. Apart from the questionable religious wisdom and denial of homosexuality in Iran, Ahmadinejad’s speech was more than an answer to Bollinger’s outlandish accusations. Yes, he did not answer anything “straight”, despite pleading from the university for him to answer in “yes” or “no”. But that was more due to the fact that Islam logic is not necessarily as vertically dismissive as Christian expectations. In every sentence that Ahmadinejad spoke, there was humility, a touch of candor and empathetic understanding. In every sentiment of Ahmadinejad, there was a prayer for collaboration, a hope for global peace, a step towards mutual dialogue. In every answer of Ahmadinejad to the Q/A session, there was an assertion of a world leader who was humble enough to raise historical lessons, and of an educated non-elite who was unafraid to research.
Ahmadinejad was forced to revisit his stance on Holocaust. Clearly he had not come to the US to speak about his views on historical revisionism, but to extend a hand of friendship for future peace pacts. Even at that stage he said he was not a Holocaust denier, what he wanted instead was further research into the area of history that has led the world to prepare for the largest unrest in recent times. Palestine did not fight World War II. Europe did. And why are the Palestinians facing the crisis still? Not an easy answer to this question, and Ahmadinejad sought for further research into this aspect. Talking about the halt in Iranian progress, he dwelt on the root cause of the unrest and insecurity. Why was Iran under sanction? Why did the first world powers withdraw unilaterally after assuring nuclear energy support to Iran? Why should there be limitations imposed on Iran’s scientific endeavors especially when IAEA has not found any problem with Iran’s peaceful nuclear program?
Moreover, Ahmadinejad did not just ask questions that were uncalled for. He offered agreements. Despite the insults and abuses and threats outside the campus building that were encouraged by the university officials, he invited American students to visit Iran, attend the universities and speak with civilians. Whether he would agree to hold a dialogue with the White House regarding resolution of US-Iran disputes? Of course, anytime! Ahmadinejad requested for a peaceful dialogue. “Everything can be resolved over talks. We need to talk”.
White House ignored Ahmadinejad during the rest of his stay. Ahmadinejad even called for a meeting of religious leaders to initiate global peace talks and succeeded. Around 140 religious leaders attended the meeting in New York, with the sole exception of any Jewish leader who refused to attend.
On the Homosexuality Question:
I waited for a few days to study media response to such an uncivilized treatment meted out to a state’s head. The American corporate media of course bathing in its biased glories preferred to maintain the line adopted by Columbia University and at their best, tried to provide a “balanced” perspective to the issue that clearly called for critical intellectual intervention.
Most reports mocked at the ignorance of Ahmadinejad when it came to issue of homosexuality. They chose to play moral pundits while not mentioning how America treats its own LGBT community. The fact that the US has consistently failed to provide for basic human rights to homosexual population even after acknowledging their presence in every sphere in social life here is clearly amiss from all reports that attacked Iran’s condition. “Mr President, in your country, homosexuals are treated in this and that way” has been a standard line of both the Columbia University president and our enlightened western press. Not for once did the educated pause awhile to review the fact that not so long ago American Psychology Association (APA), the famed master of all things research, used to consider homosexuality as an abnormality. And even to this date, the major state religion whose dictums appear on the courtroom walls and classroom prayers has been the single biggest enemy to the cause of the LGBT community.
On the Holocaust Question:
Most amount of time devoted by the university professor in his speech and later on by the university during Q/A session, and by media reports before, during and after the visit of Ahmadinejad focused on the alleged “holocaust denial” of the Iranian head. It has been accused severally that he is an Anti-Semite, like most of anyone we know in the recent history who has challenged the Holocaust issue from different perspectives.
Even as we have succeeded in challenging the legacy of Columbus and George Washington, the only and perhaps the largest event of significance has remained beyond recent review. Bollinger, the academician said there was absolutely no need to do any further research on Holocaust while Ahmadinejad said to presume that research on a topic is already exhausted is to underestimate the power of knowledge itself.
The wisdom which Ahmadinejad brought to the conference hall of the New York based university was clearly demolished to pieces with overriding imposition that calling for research into Holocaust amounts to challenging the truth itself.
The fallacious logic applied by the dominant historical thread about Holocaust is clearly evident in the manner in which they are unwilling to entertain any slightest of suggestions that can be introduced to enrich our collective historical knowledge.
If the leading academicians of the western world are so vehement in their resistance to any further research into one specific historical event, then commonsense implies there is something wrong somewhere. Personally, for me, to deny Holocaust is a crime by itself, and I am sure Ahmadinejad has not committed that crime. However it is equally a crime if we refuse to allow any more research on a historical process that changed the geographical face of the planet. Like Ahmadinejad said, we need to conduct research into every possible field in the world. We do not know whether our beliefs will be restored or quashed. The motive behind conducting a research is not to prove one or the other side. The motive of conducting a research has been to excavate further truths that may or may not unsettle previously known knowledge. On the day of his speech, Professor Ahmadinejad had not forgotten the basics of research methods. Professor Bollinger, had clearly forgotten that. And in all earnest observation, Bollinger behaved every bit unlike a student, unlike a teacher. Where is the zeal to conceal truth coming from? What legacy does Holocaust hold?
This is a crucial question of our times. Let me state that each human being of this planet has a stake in this question and each of us have a moral responsibility to respect the multiple truths that emerge from the researches done, and researches awaiting to be done. Neither the professor at Columbia holds the key to a sole truth, nor the head of Israel, Iran or United States.
If fact be told as has been chronicled by every historian of our age, the truth is the people who are steadfastly holding onto the Holocaust theory are probably the ones to have distorted the truth. That is why we need further research into the field. If truth be told, the truth is the mainstream history by denouncing Stalin and Soviet Communism and trumpeting the capitalistic cause of the age have in fact automatically joined the world of holocaust deniers.
The fact is it was the Red Army which for the first time in the world discovered the Auschwitz camps that led to an understanding of the Holocaust. The fact is when Stalin’s administration tried to send out this message to the first world for it to react, none of the western countries came forward either to help the Red Army or the victims of Hitler’s camps as was required. Quite the contrary, as has been well-evidenced, the truth is Western Europe and America were foremost in denying access to the victims of the Nazi camps.
The truth is when the Vatican learned of the secret chambers, it refused to act against the Nazi powers because the Communists had helped release the victims and for the church, communism as a political theory was more dangerous than Nazism was. The truth is Hitler’s army was heavily funded and in fact sustained by most of the leading business empires of America and Europe that continue to amass wealth and do great businesses worldwide. The capitalists during that time were aiding Hitler because for them badmouthing communism was more important than saving the lives of people who were victims of Hitler’s camps. The truth is those corporations today own most of the media business, most automobile industries. Both Ford and General Motors were aiding the Nazis then, and they are as household names in American families even now.
The truth is that the actual Holocaust deniers are those that have been hesitating to give due credits to Stalin and Red Army for their role in letting the world know about the secret chambers, by saving the lives of the remaining survivors, and by revealing the actual number of Nazi massacres to the world.
The truth is the Red Army, the only brave people who fought Hitler to his death, had put the number of dead as 4 million. This is the statistics that remained the only official figure for more than four decades. There was no question of anyone denying Hitler’s concentration camps. Of these 4 million, overwhelming majority of people were communists and communist sympathizers and fellow travelers. Hitler’s main ire—aided by his western capitalistic sponsors and the church—was against the consolidation of communism in the world. The world embracing communistic philosophy that aimed at redistributing private properties for social good was the biggest threat to the Fascist and Nazi forces that ruled the minds and hearts of rulers of every western imperial power then. Recently the formerly classified British intelligence reports have proven how the UK was a partner in crime with the Nazi forces in imprisoning, torturing and murdering communists during the WW II period. Countless American reports have suggested that the apparent threats of McCarthy seemed like a joke when compared to the actual CIA interventions in the lives of the progressives in the world. Anti-communism was the biggest single weapon that was used by Hitler then and continued till Reagan later. Interestingly, between the both, the fact is the same companies financed their respective empires wholeheartedly for them to rise and shine in power ladders.
However, to erase the fact that Communists were the actual victims of Nazi camps, the attempts on part of conservative religious groups finally led to the revision of the 4 million figure. The revisionist conservative historians conveniently “denied” the camps and its death toll and revised the number from 4 million to a little over 1 million. And the revisionists claimed that the number was much less that 4 million because 1 million of them were the Jews that were killed.
Much before Ahmadinejad proposed for a revision, it was Dr. Franciszek Piper who did revisionist research into the number of prison camps, and his research erased more than 3 million people from the total number. And the Poland’s museum which for four decades mentioned 4 million as the number of people killed by the Nazis was forced to revise the number to 1.1 million because of the revisionist historians.
The sole purpose of reducing the number was to discredit the Soviet role in combating Hitler, and to erase the historical truth about the majority of those who were killed. The majority from 4 million were actually murdered because of political reasons, and if research is led in this direction to actually demonstrate the way the Nazi-Capitalism-Church combine led their ugly war against the communists of that era, much academic curiosities will end up perhaps in suggesting the need for further research into this area of history.
Israel was built on the legacy of Holocaust. Soviet Union was disintegrated on the legacy of Communism, and the Third World was ravaged on the legacy of anti-imperialism. This is our history. We must demand to know why the 3 million victims of Nazi Capitalism were forgotten from the history. We must demand to know why the millions of Red Army soldiers were eminently discredited because they fought the Hitler to his death. We must demand to know why the Vatican and the America and the Europe did not admit the Communists to their countries even after aiding the perpetrators of the biggest genocide in recent world history. We must demand to know why the corporate houses and banks that materialized Hitler’s army and funded it to wipe off millions off the face of earth still continue to dominate businesses. We must demand to know why the inhabitants of the land, the Palestinians still continue to remain dispossessed in their own lands while the plans laid out by the perpetrators have been allowed to succeed to decide on their fates. We must demand to know why intellectually dishonest academicians and historians on their own sweet will decide what constitutes apt to be called a history despite their revising it, and why something will be rejected as history simply because they do not approve of it. We must demand to know. We must demand. History is about us.