An Exercise in Machiavellianism
Ahmadinejad started off by registering his disdain for the "insults" that Bollinger had slung, and proceeded to make a few "in my country" statements about manners and the proper decorum when one invites guests. As to what Ahmadinejad substantively said (if the shoddy translator was a fair representation, which is subject to some serious doubt, I imagine), his comments reinforced his image of a dictator armed with a copy of Noam Chomsky's latest book. He started his comments by claiming to be a scholar more than anything and launched into a relatively benign discussion of the purposes of science from an Islamic point of view, with convoluted statements about how science is really the pursuit of truth, which is misguided when it seeks after material truths, which are inferior to the spiritual truths that Islam has to offer. Then, he acted indignant at the "insults" that Bollinger had heaped upon him, but refused to address any of his allegations directly, with the exception of the nuclear proliferation (he claimed total compliance with IAEA requirements).
Most of his comments were an exercise in sleight of hand. He would respond to direct questions with questions of his own that were at best tangentially related to the original question, and almost always seemed to be an evasion of a simply put, direct question to him. His responses had the distinct flavor of a liar who denies undeniable factual conditions in order to advance his clearly illusory image of the world. Essentially, one could tell that he was lying through his teeth, even if you came to the debate from a fairly neutral point of view (and if so, I'd like to meet you). Most of his comments were an exercise in sleight of hand. If asked a question directly on the state of affairs in Iran, he would point his finger at the flaws of the United States. One poignant example was when he was asked about civil rights and capital punishment for women and homosexuals, and he responded that capital punishment existed in America, so why shouldn't it exist for those who had committed grave offenses (he cited drug trafficking as an example here). The moderator pressed the point further and asked about homosexuality very directly, and Ahmadinejad said, "In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I do not know who told you that we have it." On nuclear proliferation, he claimed that the United States was the real party responsible for dangerous proliferation, while Iran was only pursuing peaceful energy programs. His strategy is certainly understandable, since he was making some legitimate criticisms of certain American and Israeli policies, but came across as a total hypocrite because of the effective moderator, who ensured that the focus was on his policies, not anyone else's.
On the more contentious issues, the Holocaust and current policy towards Israel, Ahmadinejad attempted to be even more elusive. His comments on the Holocaust amounted to an extreme form of intellectual relativism, in which he claimed that there can be no absolute historical truth, which always gives legitimacy to any further efforts to reexamine the past. Again, he attempted to marshal some other positive value (education) for his Holocaust denial conferences, and other efforts to that effect. He specifically connected Holocaust studies to invoke the need to reexamine policy towards Palestinians and whether their current condition is justified based on the existence of the Holocaust (implying that the Holocaust is internationally accepted as the only legitimate reason for Jews to occupy the state of Israel). However, one major point in this event was that Ahmadinejad acknowledged that the Holocaust occurred as a historical fact. He did call for more investigations, but nonetheless conceded this fundamental point. On his Israel policy, he was asked a direct question on whether he seeks the destruction of the Jewish state currently controlling Israel, and he again responded with attention only paid to the plight of Palestinians and claimed that their condition needs to be defended, but did not answer the question at all.
For a man who was so upset about the "insults" slung at him by President Bollinger, he didn't even have the manners to respond to the questions put to him; he avoided most questions and answered with the voice of a hypocrite for the rest. It seems as though President Bollinger's hope, that Ahmadinejad would be ridiculed and exposed as the "dangerously uneducated...cruel and petty dictator" he really is has come true.
I think Columbia won out on this gamble, but I don't speak for the Federalist Society as a whole, and am more than willing to entertain a discussion for those who disagree. Comments are open.
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