Anyone accepting CIRCA’s invitation to sit down for an intimate dinner with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad next week should take a look at a photo taken at a public square in Iran and distributed by the Associated Press on July 23, 2005. The image depicts two blindfolded boys, around 16 years of age, with nooses being affixed to their necks moments before they were publicly hanged by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime because they were accused of “raping boys,” or, as we call it, being gay. I recall this photo not because it shocks, though it does, or because it will tell you anything new about the man who approved those hangings—it won’t. I bring it up because the moral burden of our Columbia education and human dignity requires us to examine whether it is right for us to sit down to dinner with a man who facilitates, even encourages, such executions.
In the first 45 days of 2011, 86 people, many of whom were political dissenters against Ahmadinejad’s regime, were officially executed by the government of Iran. The torrent of executions comes as the human rights situation in Iran continues its deterioration at a rapid clip. Public opposition leaders have been put under house arrest, while others have been taken off streets and locked in infamous prisons to await brutal torture, uncertain fates, and often the noose. This is a direct result of Ahmadinejad and his regime’s oppressive policies.
In the wake of all of this, if you are planning to attend this dinner, you should ask yourself one question and try to answer yourself with sincerity: What will this dinner accomplish?
Possible further questions you should ask yourself: Am I a writer who can report on it? Am I a diplomat or politician who can press Ahmadinejad for reform? Am I in a position to sway the Iranian president from any of his many baleful beliefs? The answer to these questions must be no. Dinner is off the record, and as to the other two, well, come on.
What will this dinner accomplish? Nothing, except a sating of the human urge to be in the presence of greatness, no matter how unbridled or pernicious. Hearts will beat faster as those involved witness the man—who, with the lift of a finger, can perpetrate a brutal crackdown on his own people as he did in 2009—sitting a few feet away, in flesh and blood, eating the same food they are. It fits that a representative from CIRCA told the Spectator that those involved are “thrilled to have this opportunity.”
No “thrill” is worth the sacrifice of moral dignity required to sit down with the same man who publicly killed those boys for being gay and who continues to visit upon his people humanly repugnant actions. If the only purpose of eating with Ahmadinejad is to be in the presence of him and his power, then those who do so will have made that moral sacrifice. Since no public report can be made, nor Ahmadinejad’s opinions changed, this intimate dinner is, at best, the moral equivalent of sitting down with Jeffrey Dahmer or Charles Manson just for the “thrill.” At worst, it is a small, but useful, affirmation for Ahmadinejad that his thoughts deserve to be heard by the best and brightest that American universities can offer. Every single Columbia student’s time and dignity is worth more than that. As human beings and educated students, we are obligated to refuse Ahmadinejad the grace and legitimacy of our presence.
What will this dinner accomplish? In the end, after you dwell on that simple question, the only viable answer is to just say no to dinner with the murderer, the tyrant, the terror of Tehran.
The author is a Columbia College junior majoring in history. He is editor in chief of The Current. This piece contains only his own personal views and does not reflect those of The Current.