Protestors outside the hall where Iran’s president made his speech outnumbered any supporters of the speech that were present and most said they felt betrayed that he was even allowed on campus. The crowd was highly agitated and the drama was exacerbated by the remarks of lawmakers, educators and others that felt the President of Iran should as some said “be arrested” rather than be allowed to speak.
The ire of the protestors outside the hall was no less caustic or vituperative than the message of Columbia’s President Lee Bollinger. He was applauded often as he railed against Iran’s president for his denial of the holocaust, threats to Israel and the development of nuclear materials that can be used to make weapons of mass destruction.
Bollinger was highly criticized for allowing the dictator to speak at Columbia but in an impassioned, deliberate and highly articulate manner Bollinger lambasted Ahmadinejad and at one point said he had all the ear markings of a “petty dictator” The heat inside the hall was as intense for Iran’s president as it was outside where the protestors gathered in a brooding state of collective disgust.
Weighing in against President Ahmadinejad were Presidential candidates Rudolph Giuliani, Sen. Barack Obama, California’s Duncan Hunter (R), and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (R) who said "Instead of inviting him to speak at the United Nations and Columbia University, I believe he should be indicted under the Genocide Convention," according to CBS News, September 24, 2007 The same sentiment was voiced by New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind according to The Sydney Morning Herald, September 25, 2007.
Comments, mostly negative are pouring in from every quarter of the country and bloggers on the left and the right have little refinement in their responses. From Ezra Klein’s, Tomorrow’s Media Today Sept 24, 2007 one piece entitled “Fearful Nation” says, “I genuinely don't understand the quaking fear over Ahmadinejad's interview at Columbia. When did America become so weak, so insecure, that we mistrust our capacity to converse with potentially hostile world leaders? Do we really believe the president of Columbia is so doltish as to be outsmarted by a former traffic engineer from Tehran? Do we really see no utility in publicly grilling prominent liars in such a way that their denials lose credibility? What do we have to lose from a foreign leader, even a hostile one, somberly laying a wreath at the site of a tragedy? When did we become so afraid? And for all the conservative talk that a loss in Iraq will diminish our reputation for strength and thus harm our security, how must it look when some three-foot tall Iranian firebrand keeps trying to dialogue with us and we keep dodging his calls?
Noted Arab Christian activist and founder of the American Congress for Truth, Brigitte Gabriel said in regards to Ahmadinejad’s visit and his plan to lay a wreath at Ground Zero, “This man should not be allowed to leave his hotel room other than to go to the U.N. and deliver his speech," she states. "We are not able to stop that because it is under U.N. sanctions, but we have the right to prevent him from going anywhere else on our soil, considering this man wants to destroy our country and wants to destroy the state of Israel,” One News Now September 24, 2007.
There is not room enough in anyone’s article to list all those offended by Columbia’s decision to yield her lyceum facilities and podium. Suffice it to say that thousands from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to the everyday patriot who trucks to the job and may have a son, brother, or father in Iraq, the president of Iran arrived at Columbia with blood on his hands. His part in supplying insurgents with ordinance and materials to kill and wound American servicemen is beyond dispute.
Some report that Bollinger was only trying to soften the criticism he was taking for inviting Ahmadinejad in the first place. Perhaps this is true but Iran’s president stands no taller for the verbal rebuke Bollinger fired at him. In Iran they are likely to see it as a victory even if the subject had been the price of bananas. The protestors would have said more but they can be credited with showing a great deal of restraint at the very least.
Two things may have been accomplished by the visit of Iran’s President although they are strained and altogether temporary at best. The first is that it created a momentary dissolving of the lines between democrats and republicans, liberals and conservatives and dozens of other opposing factions in America. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not get close to the red carpet and by all accounts the majority of Americans have collectively pulled up the old straw welcome matt as well.
The second outcome may be that America came as close as a nation can get to fulfilling the meaning of the words spoken by Christ in the gospel of Matthew. “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Mt 5: 44-45
Love may not be what America feels for Iran’s President but the cordiality, the freedom of expression and the fairness of the American spirit is still alive and well on this historical day in the Upper West Side of America’s most well known victim of terrorism, New York City. Maybe it is the greatest city in the world tonight but not because David Letterman’s announcer says so.
It is great because New York showed great restraint, civility and repose and behaved itself as a truly American Metropolis.