Creating people's geographies
Whether arguments command assent or not depends less upon the logic that conveys them than upon the climate of opinion in which they are sustained.*
Excepting the encouraging alternative streams of discourse on the web, Becker’s truism seems well demonstrated in the current level of propagated public discourse in the USA regarding Iran and President Ahmadinejad’s visit to Columbia University this week.
It is as if Faux Fox News writ large has permeated even the hallowed halls of Columbia University, with its President Lee Bollinger repeating half-truths, canards and lies and adding ingracious personal insult to these injuries.
First, let’s choose to look at the glass half-full. Under the aegis of academic freedom, Columbia University did not succumb, at least, to the denial of a Head of State’s visit, as happened with the rejection of the Iranian President’s request to visit Ground Zero to pay his respects. The invited address went ahead and many people will now have the opportunity to hear Ahmadinejad directly through the web (videos below; see also full transcript available here).
In a thirty minute address, the populist figurehead President speaks about academic freedom, science and religion. Towards the end of his address (20 minute mark, see third video clip) he is impassioned about the perennial need to have academic inquiry open on subjects such as the Shoah, and questions why Palestinians are paying the price for the Holocaust in WWII. He then defends Iran’s rights to nuclear technology and energy self-determination, citing Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA’s inspections.
A low point in the thirty minute Q and A that follows is when the translation presents President Ahmadinejad as saying that there are no gays in Iran when discussing human rights, inviting some jeers from the audience. This is a pity because it will be seized upon to discredit him (see comments for a discussion on this). Note: In a Democracy Now! interview this week, Seymour Hersh has attested to the “lost in translation” effect President Ahmadinejad’s recent comments about there not being a no gay problem in Iran, rather than there being no gays in Iran.
Bollinger’s pettifoggery in insulting his guest is more than just a departure from good form and civility, in which one hears an invited visitor out before presuming to berate him for propagated claims about supporting terror. As shown in the first two video clips, Bollinger says to his guest, “Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator” (would he dared to have said that to the pro-Bush Saudi Prince Bandar?) and tells him “You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated” when it comes to the Holocaust.
As well as discourteous, Bollinger’s demagoguery is obviously hypocritical and rife with double standards. Bollinger should know that the US administration is hardly a model after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq; after systemic abuse by the US military and mercenaries there such as the Haditha massacre; after Abu Ghraib; after the Guantanamo gulag, to cite just a few recent events. Bollinger should know that Israel’s, Saudi Arabia’s, China’s and other nations human rights abuses are entirely overlooked: the neocons have no compunction in actively propping up tyrants and child killers provided the appointed leader-for-life suppresses popular democratic movements at home where they are out of step with sectional US administration designs; is loyal to the revenue stream of America’s military- industrial complex; and underwrites US Empire by continuing to trade in and hold greenbacks.
As ever—but particularly at this juncture and with their sights on Iran—the neocons are spoiling for a fight.
Fortunately, we are also empowered to shape that public climate of opinion in which President Ahmadinejad is not demonised. Browsing though forums and blog posts suggests that Ahmadinejad’s decision to accept Columbia’s invitation has succeeded in winning him sympathy and that Mr Bollinger’s attack has backfired.
Part One (10 minutes)
Part Two (9 minutes)
President Ahmadinejad address in full, with Q & A (60 minutes)
* Carl Becker, The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth Century Philosophers (1932, p. 5)