On December 9, 2005, two Columbia students defaced a Ruggles suite with swastikas, racial epithets, and homophobic graffiti. Agitated by a critical mass of student activists, the administration responded unequivocally: hate had no place on Columbia's campus.
Today, at the invitation of SIPA Dean Lisa Anderson, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was slated to speak here at Columbia. Though the event has been canceled for "security reasons," we cannot ignore the fact that Dean Anderson extended Columbia's resources and facilities to a fanatical leader who masterfully sows seeds of hatred.
When it comes to Ahmadinejad, there's tragically more at stake than writing on the walls. In Ahmadinejad's Iran, gays are killed, women are stoned, and democratic activists are flogged in public squares. He has jailed dissidents. He has denied the Holocaust. He has gleefully called for the destruction of the Jewish state. We have said no to hateful words, but we have reached out to a perpetrator of hateful deeds. Consider the evidence.
In Iran, being gay is a crime punishable by death. As reporter Doug Ireland has bitterly observed, gays in Iran have four choices: being hanged, stoned, halved by a sword, or dropped from the highest perch. Last November, two men identified to Amnesty International as Mokhtar N, 24 years old, and Ali A, 25 years old, were executed publicly in the town of Gorgan. Their crime? Lavat-sodomy.
An article last week in The Advocate went into excruciating detail about the torture of a lesbian refugee named Maryam. Describing her torture by the secret police, she said, "They cursed me and spat in my face and said, 'You're a filthy, disgraced, shameless pagan' ... One of the men burned my legs with a cigarette ... I spent four days in this prison in a dark room with a single bed and cockroaches ... I was only 19. After four days they forced me to confess: They dictated to me a statement saying I'd committed a blasphemy and wouldn't do it anymore. I was so afraid, I signed it." Maryam points her finger specifically at Ahmadinejad, saying, "The government tells us that execution is the homosexual's destiny."
Life can be just as hellish for women in Ahmadinejad's Iran. As Nat Hentoff relayed in his "Liberty Beat" column this week, Malak Ghorbany was sentenced to death by stoning on June 29, 2006. The 34-year-old mother of two was found guilty of adultery. Oftentimes, these women who are convicted of adultery have, in fact, been raped. Just this June, Human Rights Watch reported that hundreds of women's rights activists were beaten and imprisoned by Iranian police during a peaceful demonstration in Tehran.
Civil liberties under Ahmadinejad are nearly nonexistent; it's impossible to sum up the litany of governmental suppression of speech and press. Ahmadinejad's latest target has been student activists. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Ali Afshari and Akbar Atri, founding members of Iranian Students for Democracy and Human Rights, wrote that "even as the secretary-general prepared to visit Iran, the regime arrested four leading student activists: Mehdi Makaremi, Jamal Zaherpour, Abolfazl Jahandar and Saeid Derakhshandi. Held in custody since August 19, the authorities have refused to grant visits even to the families of these students. When Mr. Jahandar's father asked to see his imprisoned son, he was told that if he insists too much he may be referred to the morgue."
And of course, there are Ahmadinejad's views on the Jewish people and Israel. At the now infamous conference "The World Without Zionism," Ahmadinejad called Israel "a disgraceful blot" and quoted Ayatollah Khomeini's fantasy that "Israel must be wiped off the map." Lest some have become numb to his hateful vitriol, a reminder: his message is one of genocide.
And yet, despite all of these offenses, Dean Lisa Anderson saw it fit to invite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to our campus. Shame on her, and shame on an administration that would have him speak were it not for "security reasons." Columbians-students, faculty, administration, and staff-if you are serious about standing up against hate, you will hold Dean Anderson accountable for offering Ahmadinejad a podium.
He is against absolutely everything we stand for.
If you believe in gay rights, speak out against the man who would have you hanged.
If you believe in women's rights, decry the man who would have you stoned.
If you believe in Israel's right not to be annihilated, condemn the man who would have you nuked.
We as stakeholders in Columbia University must say it loud and clear: condoning hate is not an academic exercise.