As Columbia only very recently announced, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be speaking in Roone Arledge auditorium this Monday. A number of students and student organizations have already announced plans for a protest rally the same day. We are not among them. We do not endorse Ahmadinejad or his views, many of which are inexcusable. However, as opponents of a US military strike against Iran, we have serious concerns with the content of some of the hostility that has been expressed to his presence, and specifically with the planned protest.
We fear the demonization of Ahmadinejad, because we think this demonization contributes to the likelihood of war. In the current climate, with many on the political right in the U.S. and Israel pushing for air strikes, a campaign against Ahmadinejad is dangerous, regardless of the intentions of most involved. A call to action, unless it prominently rules out war, implies military action.
A rally where each speaker denounces Ahmadinejad’s reactionary policies and just a few call explicitly for military action will still be perceived, on campus and around the U.S., as pro-war. The right-wing media, from Fox News to the New York tabloids, has already jumped on the event, and will spin it to favor their cause. Conservative organizations with no affiliation to Columbia’s campus, such as the David Project, have already signed on to the rally on Facebook, and are likely to distribute hundreds of warmongering flyers and picket signs. The rally will seem to be a sea of pro-war demonstrators — and the more people who attend it and the more organizations that endorse it, the more powerful this disastrous message will be.
A U.S. attack on Iran, which is not an inevitability but is a real possibility, would have consequences just as terrible as the invasion of Iraq. Thousands would die in initial air strikes, and more in the resulting backlash and regional conflagration. The work of Iranian campaigners for free speech, women’s rights, and lesbian and gay liberation, and against racism and anti-semitism, would be set back immeasurably. As Iranian Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi has pointed out, “Human rights are not established by throwing cluster bombs on people. You cannot introduce democracy to a country by using tanks.”
There are other means for engagement with Iran than war, and other means for disagreement with Ahmadinejad than the planned protest. We call on those who do not support a war with Iran to be wary of the vilification of Ahmadinejad, to avoid Monday’s rally, and to express vocally their opposition to military intervention.
Columbia Coalition Against the War
The Columbia Coalition Against the War‘s statement was made available at the Bwog (“compiled by the staff of The Blue and White, Columbia University’s undergraduate magazine”) and Debate (an SA discussion list).