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Today is the 10-year anniversary of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Columbia speech
And now for a long, tedious thread about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's appearance at Columbia's World Leaders Forum, 10 years ago today
I have a few vivid recollections of the day—I was 3 or 4 rows from the front, sitting a seat back from a Tehran-based Iranian journalist...
who said that she knew Ahmaedinejad, and knew that in his heart, he didn't really believe any of the awful things he was saying.
I was seated right next to like, Iran's entire UN delegation, which nodded vigorously, and seeingly in unison, for the entire talk...
I pub'd only 1 thing that day: A post for @bwog about the Naturei Karta who had come to campus to support A'jad bwog.com/2007/09/24/ahm…
Seeing regularly-dressed ppl emerge frm the crowds at 116 &Bway to hurl Yiddish curses at them is a fav sorta "only in New York"-type moment
Everything about that day—the speech, the campus-wide sense of tension/anticipation, even the chance to earnestly interview Naturei Karta...
feels weirdly formative in retrospect—like just a lot of tough &bizarre &strange truths about the world packed into a v. short span of time
Now on to some general points of analysis about the event and its legagcy
1) As reported at the time, Professor Richard Bulliet was instrumental in brokering the Ahmadinejad invitation
Interestinly, Bulliet has written at length re how/why the invite came about, and is transparent about his motives academia.edu/12131261/PAGES…
It's hard to read through that and not see the correspondences between Bulliet's logic, and even some of his interlocutors (Javad Zarif!)...
...and the arguments the Obama administration would use to frame and justify its Iran policies a mere six years later.
2) Today is also the 10 yr anniversary of Columbia prez Lee Bollinger's last real blunder, which you can watch here
It was fucking *electrifying*, and also, at the time, sorta undestandable? Like, Ahmadinejad agreed to allow Bollinger to speak first...
And Bollinger wanted to salvage some kind of moral—but actually optical—balance out of an event that he probably didn't even really want
This speech was a perfect mix of reason &excess, and it couldn't have been less appropriate. The interesting thing is that he learned frm it
Columbia has a history of student protest and is in America's largest media market. It was, and is, annexing an entire poor neighborhood...
I have a hunch that the relative lack of any real, all-consuming, Oberlin or Berkley-iike national controversy has a lot to do w/Bollinger
How much does *that* have to do with his very public failure ten years ago today, one wonders?
3) As I noted in an essay for the Columbia Current that @DovSFriedman edited, columbia-current.org/obscure-intern…
A'jad might not even have been the "worst" world leader who spoke at Columbia that day columbia-current.org/obscure-intern…
Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, the dentist-turned totalitarian dictator of Turkmenistan, was the day's opening act. I was there for that too.
That was, if anything, *even weirder* than A'jad—like he basically rambled for 40 mins while videos of galloping horses played on a screen
I asked him a really insanely lame question, something along the lines of like, "can you promise the next elections will be free and fair?"
His answer was the typical "I get 99% of the vote because my people love me," with some Berdimuhamedovian bluster thrown in
Honestly, there are not many colleges where you can like, openly (tho meekly) confront a dictator and see the wheels in his mind spin...
and that's the kind of education you can't really get in any classroom. It was yet another formative sorta glimpse into the void
4) I saw Ahmadinajad speak in person a second time, at the UN's Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2010
Unlike his often-sputtering and flat-footed Columbia talk, this speech was a tour-de-force, maybe even a turning point of sorts
Ahmadinejad brillaintly framed the entire nuclear issue as a standoff between the entrenched world powers and the subaltern...
ie the core issue wasn't Iran's violation of the NPT—it was the nuclear states' violation of Iran's intrinsic national dignity
There was some pearl-clutching in the press gallery when the speech ended—"Total defiance;" "ZOMG he's going after China!" etc
But his was the interpretation of the nuclear standoff that "won"—just as Bulliet's read on the larger arc of US-Iranian relations "won"
Crazy thing can stop being or seeming crazy with astounding alacrity. They can become very serious, very quickly. 1 lesson of 10 years ago
5) But *this* was the real legacy of the A'jad speech nbc.com/saturday-night… What a classic. It was all worth it just for this imo
and I don't even like Andy Samberg that much tbh. (Note: Armisen is one of the geniuses of our time)
6 and last) I didn't appreciate then, but in retrospect the most remarkable thing about the A'jad speech was how non-political it all was
He came, he spoke, there were some queasy moments in there (ie applause in Roone when A'jad spoke abt the Israeli-Palestinian conflict)...
But everyone remained semi-respectful. There wasn't like, a looming sense of menace on campus. Ppl quickly moved on with their lives.
Anyway it was a different world—but also, of course the same world. COOL you can all unmute me now; it's over!
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