The Gena Six, Ahmadinejad and Civil Liberties

September 24, 2007 · Print This Article · Email This Post

Jena, Louisiana TreeOn this first full day of autumn, with the leaves beginning to change colors and students back in school, we await Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at Columbia University in New York City this afternoon. We’re struck by the incongruity of last week’s on Jena, Louisiana and a nationwide insistence that civil liberties be preserved in Jena, while the clamor to quash Ahmadinejad’s speech is everywhere. His trip to Ground Zero has already childishly been nixed. We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Iran wasn’t the cause of the World Trade Center attack on 9/11. . .Maybe the man would have learned something there, or gained new perspective. Why is this any different than, say, an Iranian student going to visit the Washington Monument? Deliberately offending the leader of a foreign nation can’t be wise.

Mahmoud AhmadinejadIf the point of the Jena 6 demonstration was to support civil liberties, what are we saying and what do we look like to the world when we want to quash Adhmadinejad’s speech? Free speech only applies to those whom we approve of? As author Noam Chomsky put it, “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” While Columbia University says they invited the Iranian President to speak for educational reasons, the New York Daily News heralded his arrival as if Godzilla was spotted in the distance, with a headline screaming: “The Evil Has Landed,” with a mid-afternoon story headline reading: “Iranian madman Mahmoud Ahmadinejad walks among us.” (So much for straight news coverage.) Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House and always a fountain of wisdom, grandiosely remarked that Ahmadinejad’s visit was “an outrage against civilization.” Oh, pal-eeze.

George Bush as Saddam HusseinHere’s an image which may offend, of President George Bush dressed as Saddam Hussein. Does it really matter if the picture offends? It’s intended to be provocative, to make the reader think. It’s part of journalist Patrick Graham’s article, “How George Bush Became the New Saddam” in Macleans magazine. In the article, Graham argues that “The Americans are the new Baathists in Iraq.” He says that the current surge strategy of the United States is the same strategy used by Saddam Hussein — “which was to contain the Kurds, confront the Shia using tribal Sunnis, and to confront Iran.” The man does have a point. Is Maclean’s portrayal of Bush “unpatriotic,” as many Americans would say? No, it’s a political statement, nothing more and nothing less. But it’s not inherently “bad,” any more than allowing Ahmadinejad to speak is inherently “bad.”

Read more about Ahmadinejad’s visit to the World Trade Center.

Photo credits:, Atta Kenara/AFP Getty Images and Macleans magazine

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