Colgate Students Question Ahmadinejad

Ethan Levitt

What had originally been planned to be a respite from President Ahmadinejad’s meetings with the United Nations proved to be anything but that as students from Colgate University and several other schools and organizations conversed with the President at the Grand Hyatt in New York City on Wednesday.

Harvey Picker Professor of International Relations Fred Chernoff led a group of International Relations students down to this forum where they, along with high school academy students, other college students and UN interns, were able to discuss political and philosophical issues with the current President of the Islamic Republic of Iran without any preconditions. Ahmadinejad, a university professor in Iran, wanted to meet with students in a question and answer session similar to the ones that take place in his classrooms.

After introductions from the Iranian ambassador and two NYU professors, the discussion was then turned over to President Ahmadinejad, who was welcomed with a polite applause. He prefaced the question and answer session with inspirational words for his audience, speaking of the dynamism and righteousness of young people in the United States and their desire to bring change in the world. In a world of pessimism and threats, he said, it is left to young people to fight oppression and discrimination in the world. He described his very own country of Iran as “one of tolerance and technology, a country with a passion to help developing countries prevent the poverty that leads to terrorism,” beliefs which, in his eyes, he shared with the students and linked him to them.

The first series of questions Ahmadinejad responded to focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ahmadinejad refrained from ever actually mentioning Israel during the discussion, focusing more on the sorrow stories of the displaced Palestinians and his conviction for a free referendum to let the Palestinians determine, unilaterally, where they want to live. Ahmadinejad explained to his young audience, that for some reason, the Jewish people were seen as the main victims of World War II and that Israel was the world’s superpowers way of making up for the Holocaust (which, he claims, did not happen).

The second set was comprised primarily of questions about Iran’s nuclear program. Ahmadinejad did not believe that the demands made upon him and his country were fair, and claimed that their nuclear intentions were peaceful and were directed towards finding alternative energy sources. Since the IAEA has no force or power, Iran has not felt pressure to disarm a program that has peaceful aims, Ahmadinejad said.

Finally, the questions turned over to what Ahmadinejad thought about the future of U.S.-Iranian relations. Though the President would not share his views about his preference for the next President of the United States, he did indicate that the United States needs to reverse the decision it made to cut ties with Iran. Ahmadinejad informed the students that Iran is willing to offer advice to the next President and the U.S. government, some of which he shared with the audience. He suggested that we should limit the scope of our intervention around the globe and focus internally, as our Founding Fathers intended.

Several questions were also asked about the civil rights abuses in Iran and Ahmadinejad’s personal beliefs on homosexuality. In response, the President revealed that gays do exist in Iran, but that they are “incompatible with our covenant.” Ahmadinejad also did not deny the existence of a quota in the Iranian university system which is preventing women from attending school since there are currently too many of them already enrolled. This is only one of the many examples students brought up in regards to allegations that Iran’s civil rights abuses have increased since Ahmadinejad became President.

Ahmadinejad closed by telling the students in attendance that he “loved us all and I feel like we are old friends.”

Ahmadinejad’s warm, winning words seemed to have quite a way with 400 young adults in attendance as most of them sought out pictures with the leader and were most grateful for the lunch he offered to treat us to. The consensus among the Colgate students in their discussion following the debate was that Ahmadinejad was indeed a gifted speaker who somehow managed to take deceitful claims and wicked ideologies and transformed them into convivial and witty answers. It almost made you want to like the man if you could ignore the content. His grand, poetic language captured the ears of the young audience quite effectively it seemed, but I am inclined to think that upon further reflection most of the students will agree that this was nothing but a blatant attempt at image improvement and a chance to infect “pure” youth with Iranian propaganda.