By Sandra Cariglio
Last update – 15:13 24/09/2007
COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY – Over the past week, the Columbia University campus has been living in a state of marked restlessness in preparation for Mondays highly controversial scheduled speaking appearance of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Last year, Columbia canceled a planned visit by Ahmadinejad, citing security challenges and logistical issues. This year, Columbia President Lee Bollinger turned aside demands that the event be cancelled again. He has promised to personally introduce Ahmadinejads talk, beginning with a list of what he said would be tough questions focusing on such issues as Holocaust denial, a call for Israel to be wiped off the map and charges that Iran supports terrorism.
Although many students applaud Bollingers initiative for an open debate, especially with a figure with whom they they so strongly disagree, voices of dissent have emerged in broad sectors of the student body.
Columbia Sophomore Jordan Hirsh said he views the invitation of Ahmadinejad as a vast farce and an unsophisticated way of bringing debate on campus, for a sheer controversy devoid of substance.
Others fear that Columbias having invited Ahmadinejad might act to further legitimize him in Iran and provide a platform for values they see as fanatical.
Bollinger responded to this criticism by stating that It should never be thought that merely to listen to ideas we deplore in any way implies our endorsement of those ideas.
It is a critical premise of freedom of speech that we do not honor the dishonorable when we open the public forum to their voices. To hold otherwise would make vigorous debate impossible.
Many students criticize Bollingers last minute announcement of the event. According to student leaders Josh Rosner, president of Columbia Hillel, and Jonathan Siegel, For effective discourse and debate to occur, adequate preparation time is necessary – thoughtful questions must be thoroughly researched, counter-speakers must be arranged, protests and rallies must be organized. Four days is simply insufficient.
The Columbia Coalition Forum protest against Ahmadinejad will begin on Monday at 11:30 A.M. local on Low Plaza on the Manhattan campus. The various members of the Coalition, which include Global Justice, CU democrats, EAAH CISA, ACLU, Hillel, Gender Youth, LionPac, Jester , GAYA BahaI, Amnesty International, Progressive Jewish Alliance, CQA, and Hillel Culture, will be speaking in ten minute intervals.
Meanwhile, counter-protesters have methodically covered over Hillel-placed posters depicting allegations of Iranian government brutality against homosexuals and women, juxtaposed against Ahmadinejad quotes such as everyone who recognizes Israel will burn in the fury of Islam.
Groups such as Columbia Coalition Against the War voiced concern at demonization of Ahmadinejad, which it said increases the probability of war. In a statement, the CCWA called for a boycott of the rally, which they believe will be perceived on campus and around the U.S, as pro-war. The event also has drawn criticism from the socialist group Revolution.
On Sunday, an anti-Ahmadinejad press conference took place in front of the Broadway gates. Assemblyman Dov Hikind called for New Yorkers to show up by the thousands. New York City council member David Weprin and members of the pro-Israel LionPac campus organization of campus also joined in the debate.
Hillel, the Jewish student group on campus, has taken a leading role in coordinating the protests, which are co-sponsored by a wide range of organizations, among them Stand With Us, Aish HaTorah/Hasbarah Fellowships, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Union of Reform Judaism/Kesher, the Zionist Organization of America, and AIPAC.
The Israel on Campus Coalition, worked with Hillel to coordinate the programs and distribute materials for the rally, such as T-shirts and information packets. The group created an e-mail address to which students could send questions that moderators could choose to pose to Ahmadinejad at the event. Students joined the rally Facebook groups by the hundreds.