Opinion | Op-eds

Say no to Ahmadinedinner

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.

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Anonymous posted on

what an elegant and thoughtful response

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Anonymous posted on

Great job!! While Columbia obviously takes pride in its love of free speech, this goes one step too far.

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Anonymous posted on

Two or three steps too far, I'd say.

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Anonymous posted on

This school is so liberal sometimes it makes me physically sick. Thank you, Mr. Fine.

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Anonymous posted on

Go David Fine!

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Anonymous posted on

I am confused as to what exactly not eating with Ahmadinejad is supposed to accomplish. Mr. Fine suggests we are delusional if we think we are in any position to change the dictator's mind. Isn't it just as delusional to think that denying his invitation would have any effect? That the refusal of fifteen privileged young people would even register in the attention of someone with (I'm sure) a tightly packed agenda for his visit to New York? Come on. If you have an opportunity to tell a dictator exactly what you think, whether or not it's going to change his mind, you should take it. If you have an opportunity to witness dangerous egomania firsthand, and learn from it, you should take it! To suggest otherwise is just an excuse for moral high-horsery.

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Anonymous posted on

If you have an opportunity to treat with respect someone utterly undeserving of any, you should pass.  Calling it a "learning experience" is just an unconvincing rationale for some ego-tripping (Hey, guess who I had dinner with?).

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Anonymous posted on

California Dreamer, I second that emotion.

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Anonymous posted on

I will pose my response in the form of a question.

What would having dinner with any politician or person with any significant power what-so-ever accomplish?

I am sure none of these sentiments would be expressed if it was Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton who was having dinner with 15 students. Would you be able to report on this dinner? No, for the same reason given in the article. Would you be able to press for reform? Would you be able to change their mind about anything? As was said in the article, "come on."

I would personally be much more likely to want to sit down and have dinner with Ahmadinejad than Obama. Not because of what respect I think they deserve--all people deserve respect, no matter how awful they may be--but because Ahmadinejad has views that are much more veiled and hidden. I would absolutely love a chance to really try to start to uncover what he really is like. I would go in expecting not to get anywhere since it is just a dinner, but I would still try.

I think it is just as important to get to learn about, and talk to people who may be awful people as it is to talk to people who do a lot of good for the world.

So although there may not be any political gain in this dinner, but there wouldn't be with any person with any sort of power, there will be knowledge gained by the students who attend, and that is very valuable.

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Anonymous posted on

Very well written piece by David Fine. I've met David personally and he's a great guy. However, I do understand the excitement of CIRCA and I support them in their desire to eat with Mr. Ahmedinejad. 

First of all, from a foreign policy student's perspective, this opportunity to gain personal insight into a man of Ahmedinejad's fame (or infamy) is simply unparalleled. There are no amount of news articles or books or essays that would deliver the same experience of actually getting to know a major world figure in an intimate setting like a private dinner. I'm not saying that the students would suddenly understand Ahmedinejad after a meal, but I'm saying that they would learn things that they (and the rest of the world) might never otherwise have known about the man. So, from an educational standpoint, I think that eating with Ahmedinejad would be utterly fascinating, and as a political science student, I myself would relish the opportunity. 

Now, on the topic of the bad things that Ahmedinejad has done. Sure, maybe it was his government which oversaw the brutal hanging of the two boys who, by all accounts, seem to have been unjustly murdered. Yes, there's talk of his disrespect for human rights and his polemics against Israel. But sitting down with the man doesn't mean an endorsement of everything he is. Are we the type of people who lack the confidence to look into the eyes of people who we disagree with? Why are we afraid to learn about the other side? We live in a complex, flawed world, where not everything is black and white; we give up opportunities to see the world for what it truly is if we run away from everything that upsets us.

Furthermore, I suspect that David, or any of the anti-Ahmedinejad voices here, would have no problem with dining with Hu Jintao or Vladimir Putin, George W. Bush, or even Barack Obama, all of whom are powerful men who have led crackdowns and/or wars that have flagrantly disrespected human rights of far-away individuals, who have been accused of human rights crimes, and have pursued violent agendas that have ruined thousands of lives. It is impossible to make absolute moral judgements of mortal leaders. While Ahmedinejad is certainly a 'bad' dictator who is unquestionably opposed to the interests of the United States and Israel, I reject the idea that we can so universally denounce him as a human being that nobody should even dare to dine with him at the risk of "sacrificing their moral dignity". Agree with him or not, hate him or not, deem him a criminal or not, he is certainly a very compelling, fascinating individual who would be extremely interesting to meet in person.

I am not writing this to disparage David's personal feelings about Ahmedinejad, or vouch for the Iranian dictator. But I do want to caution against trying to draw unequivocal moral conclusions about politics and the world in general. It's one thing to say "I really don't like this guy." It's another thing to imply that CIRCA students are committing some sort of moral sin by eating food with Ahmedinejad. As students, we close off our minds to our own detriment. Let the CIRCA students go, and let's support them for their bravery in choosing to take on this truly unique opportunity.

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Anonymous posted on

I respect the thought you put into your response. However, I find myself frustrated by the naivete expressed in your writing. You call yourself a Political Science major and yet you don't seem to have any understanding of Iranian politics or Ahmadinejad's actions as President. "There's talk of his disrespect for human rights"? I think watching some of his interviews and reading some more newspapers would do you good. Also, you believe you would "relish the opportunity," but you can't honestly believe that he'll speak with students candidly about his actions, right? I think the students are more likely to learn about his table manners than gain any new insight about his beliefs.

I do agree that we shouldn't ignore people we disagree with, but we aren't. Many of us are fully informed about his positions, and that is WHY sitting in the same room as him would frankly make our blood boil. Furthermore, you might not go into the event thinking that having dinner with Ahmadinejad would validate him and his actions, but like it or not, Columbia students represent educated American citizens as well as America's future leadership. The media knows that, and Ahmadinejad certainly knows that... Lastly, for me at least, there is a great difference between a group of 15 students having dinner with Ahmadinejad and Columbia inviting him to speak in a public forum setting. A public event would encourage both education and discussion, and it would certainly pressure Ahmadinejad for more honest and complete answers than a group of 15 students eating dinner could. For me at least, a small dinner implies acceptance rather than actual community dialogue/debate, which is what Columbia students (including myself) should and would support. 

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Anonymous posted on

Thank you, David, for this well written explanation for why we should not associate ourselves in any way with this man unless we are in a position to change his actions or remove him form power. I wasn't here in 2007, but it sickens me that Columbia would ever allow it's name to be connected to Ahmadinejad in any way other than a public condemnation. 

Cheers,
A fellow CC Student

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Anonymous posted on

I think you assume too much in your column. To suggest that the sole reason to attend the dinner is to bask in the presence of Ahmadinejad is far too bold of a claim to make. You are incapable of making this generalization about the students invited to the dinner.

While you believe that these students are not in a position to push for reform. How can you say that with certainty? Are you denying the possibility that something someone might say could have some positive effect on the actions of Ahmadinejad? It's a stretch, but not impossible.

But. Most importantly, everyone needs to chill out a little bit. Having dinner with a cruel and petty dictator does not validate his outlandish claims. Attending a dinner with Ahmadinejad does not make the the Holocaust unhappen. By agreeing to engage in conversation one does not condone his actions.

Ignoring a problem does not make it go away.

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Anonymous posted on

only at Columbia will students sit down to dinner with a dictator who hangs those who are Gay, yet raise Holy hell when their own military (that at one point ) banned Gays from serving openly tries to open an ROTC command on Campus.  We used to call these people HYPOCRITES or at least two faced SOB's

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Anonymous posted on

I have absolutely no disagreement with the fact that Ahmadinejad is an asshole and will probably be a very unpleasant dinner company.     I wonder, however, why did you write a column like this about Ahmadinejad, and not, say, King Abdullah of Jordan.   He is speaking in Columbia next week:
 http://www.worldleaders.columb...
Unlike Ahmadinejad, he was not elected, has very little popular support, and owes his position entirely to hereditary
privilege and the fact that his dictatorship is friendly to the US and Israel.   Like Ahmadinejad, people who demonstrate against him routinely get imprisoned, tortured and killed.
Alternatively, you can go ahead and refuse a dinner with a member of Netanyahu's administration.   Unlike Ahmadinejad's Iran, the Israeli administration killed and maimed several american citizens engaged in peaceful resistance, as well as hundreds of children.    Ahmadinejad has rigged courts for political opponents.   Israel has military courts with the power to jail indefinitely with no charge and trial.   Even if the defendent is a child.
And then of course we can talk about other human rights violators, thankfully now deposed, the US was friends with.
Did you know Pakistan's military dictator  Pervez Musharraf visited Columbia at the same time as Ahmadinejad?
And, while Bollinger was all sanctimonious with Ahmadinejad, he fawned over him:  “President Musharraf is a leader of global importance and his contribution to Pakistan’s economic turnaround and the international fight against terror remain remarkable - it is rare that we have a leader of his stature at campus”

It requires no courage to oppose Ahmadinejad in the middle of NY: He is after all the bad guy of the day according to the US political consensus.        It would be a lot better if you critically look at _ALL_ human rights violators with the same standards.   Even if, god forbid, we like them!
Having said that, Ahmadinejad is a bad guy.   Please heckle him if he speaks in Columbia.   When you do, I am confident you will get treated much better than the students currently on trial in California for heckling the Israeli ambassador.

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Anonymous posted on

Thank you for all the thoughtful responses. I'm at work right now so i can't respond at this moment but I will be doing so within the next few days. Keep 'em coming and let me know if you have any specific questions.

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Anonymous posted on

"As human beings and educated students, we are obligated to refuse Ahmadinejad the grace and legitimacy of our presence."
This sounds a bit elitist. I think as educated human beings, we are obligated to share our knowledge with others, particularly those who we disagree with. When Ahmadinejad came to Columbia in 2007, he resembled a professor lecturing to a bunch of students. This dinner, I hope, will provide for more of a two-way conversation.

PS: You write extremely well!

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David Fine posted on

Hi Bijan, thanks for the comment. I agree that we "we are obligated to share our knowledge with others, particularly those who we disagree with." I would even contend that this is the central mission of the university project. This dinner, though, does not provide the type of opportunity that we strive for at Columbia. It is limited to a select few (that, to me, sounds elitist) and it is off the record so there will never be a chance to hear or know if there was a free exchange of ideas. What it is, though, is a chance for Ahmadinejad to go back home and use the dinner as propaganda, suggesting to his people that his views share legitimate recognition among the best and brightest of American universities.

Beyond that, though, what I mean by the line that you quoted is this: sure, we should be open to the free exchange of ideas, but we need to draw the line at some point, where our morality refuses to allow us to recognize a position as legitimate. I believe this is the case with Ahmadinejad—it is a clear-cut case where our morals should refuse to legitimize him or his actions. If it was a public forum and if he was able to be questioned rigorously for the public record, but it is not. It is a case of students feeling that they should sit down for a nice dinner with him, thus legitimizing him as someone worthy enough to break bread with. This seems a bit too far for me, and I think many Columbia students.

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DansDaMan posted on

Since the word "Israel" is not part of the bill of particulars in this piece, I'll assume that at Columbia Ahmadinejad loses points for killing homosexuals but gets extra credit for threatening to wipe out Israel.

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Anonymous posted on

No... I would say that David most likely avoided Israel in this piece because when Israel gets mentioned, it tends to sway the opinions of those who read the article. This article can be appreciated by many people regardless of their stance on Israel. Once the state gets thrown into the loop, though, many other sentiments come out, and people would be more likely to speak against the article simply because it supports the state. 
In addition, actually succeeding in killing gay boys is much more active and existent than a threat to wipe out Israel. One of those has happened, and one of them will not. As college students, the one that threatens human life and liberty hits much closer to home because it is something that every person can connect with. 
Lastly, were David to list everything Ahmadinejad's done, it would overpower the article. By focusing on just one act of violence and crime, it allows the article to get to its main point: that we should not be honoring this man (especially so often!).

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Anonymous posted on

Thank you David Fine for your thoughtful, well written article. I couldn't agree more!

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Anonymous posted on

Wouldn't Columbia make a statement if those 12 invited, just did not show? Let little Hitler eat cake by himself!
Great piece! David, keep up the great work.

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Anonymous posted on

Those people who think that having a civilized and rational conversation with Ahmadinejad will result in a change of his policies should visit the grave of Nevil Chamberlin.

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