Monday, September 24, 2007

Why are the questions for President Ahmadinejad so simplistic?

(Image by Newsha Tavakolian)

Listening to Ahmadinejad talk at Columbia University a couple of hours ago made me wonder why they don't have an Iranian ask him questions? The president of Columbia University promised to blast hard questions at the Iranian president. But the questions asked, like those asked by many others, were a bit soft. The answers were predictable. An Iranian cab driver would know how to ask questions that would make Ahmadinejad squirm.

Ahmadinejad, like many Iranians, is a master at speaking in an indirect way. His most direct response was about homosexuals: there are none in Iran! If Mr. Ahmadinejad promises not to execute me or my friends, I would introduce him to wonderful gay Iranians.

It was so obvious what the answer to a question about women's rights or support of terrorism or even the question about the holocaust would be. There were too many ways for him to manipulate his response. When Mr. Ahmadinejad questions the holocaust, he denies the direct experience of many holocaust survivors. Why not make it very personal for him? Why always have such abstract questions? His response that the holocaust should have nothing to do with Palestinians was not a response to the question at all. In order to get him to talk, the questions need to be really specific. "Do you deny that approximately 6 million Jews died as a result of Hitler's policies just because they were Jews?" That is the question.

So the secret of Iran is that there is no AIDS, no bird flu, no torture, no baseless arrests in the name of national security, no nuclear weapons ambitions, no hate, and no homosexuals.

Iran is heaven on earth.


Anonymous said...

You are correct in most of your reflections on Ahmadinejad's performance and that of his questioners. But, you have to admit that he is not the monster he was made out to be. He should have been treated with respect as a fallible human being who has the capacity to change his mind and do better. I am really ashamed of the way a head of state was treated by a major American university.

Kamangir said...

Good job Kamran.

Anonymous said...

University President Bollinger's introduction was "very harsh," said Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian studies at Columbia University.

"Inviting him and then turning around and alienating and insulting an entire nation whose representative this man happens to be is simply inappropriate," said Dabashi, who also criticized Ahmadinejad.


K said...

University President Bollinger's introduction of on Ahmadinejad was "very harsh," and I will add very childish, and insulting. I agree.

Anonymous said...

Bollinger's introductory soapbox rant illuminates the current supremacy of politics over intellect in the modern American university. It wasn't like this in the late 20th century. Someone should check out Bollinger's connection to "intelligence" agencies.

Anonymous said...

Concerning sexual deviance in Iran

When Ahmadinejad states to an American audience that there are no homosexuals in Iran, we should not greet his claim with boos and ridicule, but, rather, should try to understand the cultural background that leads him to say so in all apparent sincerity.
Here's one way of making sense of his statement, for illustrative purposes. I certainly make no claim that it is the way Iranians make sense of it.

The basis of American belief that homosexuality exists is that it is an aspect of physical reality. People differ in sexual orientation because they were born different, we now think, although we have not always thought that way.

But, physical reality is not the only basis of belief. We can imagine a "pure" or ideal reality that does not include the category of homosexuality. Under that regime of thought, any sexual deviance in the society would be considered impure physicality that obviously occurs, but insignificantly so. A man under such conditions might err by doing homosexual acts, but still be considered by self and others unalterably heterosexual. Such errors would be recognized when they happened but would not be acknowledged as a category of reality. Thus, one could say in such a condition that homosexuality does not exist in that collectivity.

These remarks are intended as an indication of how we should orient our approach to incomprehensible remarks that are so divergent from our own understanding. We should strive to understand such remarks from the speaker's perspective.

How Iranians, themselves, make sense of their President's remark is a matter for empirical sociological study.
Truly yours,

Anonymous said...

ps CNN says that the issue has been resolved: it was a mistake in translation. Ahmadinejad meant to say that Iran doesn't have (as many) homosexuals as the US does. This seems suspiciously and conveniently easy to me. First, he doesn't know how many homosexuals there are in Iran. Second, we do not have accurate estimates of that demographic in US. Third, to say that Iran has fewer because the population is smaller is insipid. I think he said what he meant.

Ehsan said...

For what it is worth, Ahmadinejad, who is the president of IR of Iran, does not execute homosexuals or anybody else for that matter. The judiciary system does. Whether or not that makes a difference is up to you.

Tori said...

Ehsan, the comment about being executed was meant as a bit of a joke. We know that the burden of proof is extremely high to execute a homosexual -- 4 eye witnesses to the consumation of the sexual act -- that despite all the hype, there really aren't verifiable executions of homosexuals in Iran. There are only rumors.

Also it is worth stating that the judiciary is responsible for executions in Iran, which means that a particularly vindictive judge is a scary piece of work.

Rebecca said...

I don't understand why the commentators are so concerned with the supposed rudeness of President Bollinger of Columbia. He was speaking the truth, wasn't he? When will any Iranian dissident get the opportunity to speak the truth to Ahmedinejad or the other rulers of Iran and not killed (or imprisoned) because of it?

And Ron - nice try to persuade us that AJ was not saying what he was actually saying! What he said reminded me, more than anything else, of claims in China during the Mao years that there were no homosexuals in China, it was just bourgeois deviation in the West that allowed them to exist.

Anonymous said...

rebecca, I believe that Ahmadinejad, concerning gays in Iran, said what he meant and meant what he said. My comment was addressed to the fact that Iranian and American realities are vastly different. And, the fact that academics, particularly, should try to understand other people from their perspectives. The silence of the social sciences, specifically anthropologists and some interpretative sociologists and cultural psychologists regarding this misunderstanding is deafening.

Anonymous said...

Iranian forces have shelled deeper into northern Iraq than previously, hitting targets in an area northeast of the city of Arbil, a local official said Thursday.
"The Iranian forces began their bombardments again on Wednesday evening targeting far away from the border," said Abdul Wahid Koani, mayor of the Kurdish Iraqi border town of Joman.

"This time the Iranian bombardment was different as it targeted a town deep inside Iraqi territory," Koani told AFP.

Iranian artillery shells landed in the Haj Umran area, hitting targets on two mountains and villages abandoned from earlier attacks, he said, adding that they reached as far as 17 kilometres (10.5 miles) into Iraqi territory.

Iran confirmed for the first time on Sunday that it had been shelling camps of Kurdish militants inside northern Iraq, saying the local authorities had not listened to its warnings.

The militant Kurdish separatist group PJAK -- linked to Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) -- has been behind a string of deadly attacks on security forces in northwestern Iran in recent months.

Iraqi Kurdish officials said last month that hundreds of Iraqi Kurds had fled remote mountain villages near the country's eastern frontier after Iranian gunners targeted separatist guerrilla bases.

Anonymous said...

and, Rebecca, Ahmadinejad is not a Marxist. Two identical statements don't necessarily mean the same.