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Friday, September 21, 2007

Ignorance and Demagoguery

On Hardball today, Chris Matthews had Ed Schultz and Ron Christie on to yell at each other about whether Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, should be "allowed" to speak at Columbia University while he is in NYC to address the UN. Christie, who is a former Cheney staffer and apparently the guy that news shows call to defend any absurd right-wing position, was just outraged that Columbia had invited such a meanie to speak, and was apoplectic about how untoward it was. Ed Shultz did a pretty good job of pointing out the obvious: Universities are places for the free exchange of ideas, no matter how unpopular those ideas are. Click "There's More..." and I'll explain why this got my panties in such a bunch.

There are a number of reasons that the bruhaha disturbs me. First, the right-wing scaremongering about Iran is pretty troubling, and the idea that they engage in such demagoguery and then refuse to let Ahmadinejad speak in the US is absurd. If the man is such a fire-breathing monster, surely he will win no converts at Columbia.

My knowledge about Ahmadinejad is limited to second or third hand sources. I speak only english, and as we saw with Iraq, one should be skeptical when dealing with administration scaremongering. The Columbia event is a Q&A forum; wouldn't it be great to have American citizens actually asking Ahmadinejad about all those inflammatory statements that he is always credited with? Does he actually support violent action against Israel, and if not would he be willing to denounce it? There are dozens of great questions that should be asked. The idea, that Christie was promoting that his MERE PRESENCE at Columbia is some kind of endorsement of his views, or inappropriate is absurd, anti-intellectual, and dangerous. He should be ashamed, even as a right wing shill.

Juan Cole is a respected professor of Mideast Studies at the University of Michagan, and he maintains the blog Informed Comment. He has written quite a bit about the demagoguing of Ahmadinejad. Many of those famous inflammatory statements, Ahmadinejad apparently just didn't say. I'm sure that you've heard somewhere (or likely, many places) that Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map." The problem? He didn't. It was a mistranslation by a western wire service of Ahmadinejad calling for regime change in Israel. He has denied bening anti-semitic, and he has said it is wrong to kill Jews. I'm not saying he's a great guy, but I am saying we should be very wary of warmongering and demagoguery from our domestic media and politicians.

Juan Cole has asked his readers to keep tabs on media outlets that repeat the tale about "wipe Israel off the map.":
I renew my call to readers to write protest letters to newspapers and other media every time they hear it alleged that Ahmadinejad (or "Iran"!) has threatened to "wipe Israel off the map." There is no such idiom in Persian and it is not what he said, and the mistranslation gives entirely the wrong impression. Wars can start over bad translations.
Right-wingers call Ahmadinejad the "Hitler of Iran." I think that's pretty offensive, and ignorant. As Cole points out, "there 20,000 Jews in Iran with a member of parliament in Tehran." I'm not particularly knowledgeable about Ahmadinejad's specific policy positions regarding Israel, but I would like to have him asked about that in an American academic setting.

The second reason that Christie's hissy fit strikes me as stupid is the fact that universities are ideally held to be places of enlightenment, where ideas are exchanged and debated, free from external pressures. Obnoxious groups routinely air their views at universities around the country, as well they should. If assholes weren't free to speak at universities, how would Ann Coulter and the rest of Christie's crew earn a living?

I should add that a couple months ago, one of these obnoxious groups did speak at Columbia. Jim Gilchrist, the founder of "The Minutemen"; those racist beer-belly's that sit at the border in lawn chairs to take pot-shots at mexican's, spoke to an audience of students and community members about hs group and his idealogy. About 40 students disrupted his speech and stormed the stage, forcing an end to the discussion. The students claimed that this was how they exercised their own "free speech," but they were wrong. They were stifling Gilchrists speech, not exercising their own. I feel that it is incumbent on me to denounce that act when I call for Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia. So I denounce it.

Ron Christie is an ignorant asshole willing to tow any line. We didn't get stuck in Iraq because we asked too many questions, debated too much, or knew too much. Let's not let these assholes make that same mistake again.