When Columbia University allowed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to address the public Monday, longtime Las Vegan Edythe Katz Yarchever could only sigh.
For those who have monitored his rise from terrorist to dictator, the tyrant from Tehran foments a predictable pattern of hate.
But on Monday night Ahmadinejad’s delivery was interrupted by the U.S. tradition of dissenting opinion and protest. His despicable rhetoric was widely ridiculed, and his views on issues ranging from the Holocaust to the presence of homosexuals in Iran were exposed for all to see.
What happened next was a remarkable thing. Not only were Ahmadinejad’s remarks reported and picked apart in the pages of the nation’s newspapers and on its national television news shows, but his lies were stripped bare in other media as well. By Tuesday morning, rock radio personalities whose worldview is normally limited to the latest Britney Spears scandal went to great lengths to blast the Iranian president.
“I just look at him as a dangerous public clown,” says Yarchever, a civil rights activist for more than half a century and a founding member of the Nevada Governor’s Advisory Council on Education Relating to the Holocaust. “I don’t know why he is allowed in this country. Better people who are considered less public wise are not allowed in this country.
“I suppose we have to expose his ignorance — if only because, somehow or another, he’ll find a way to get some publicity.”
Ahmadinejad might have come to the United States seeking photo opportunities to take back to Iran, but what he found were Americans willing to give him the Rodney Dangerfield treatment. The president’s propagandists will have to work overtime to revise his visit into something positive.
“I’d rather not see him on television,” the 87-year-old Yarchever says. “But by the same token, something good came out of it. Did you see the reaction by those young students? The Columbia students just razzed him.”
The university president wasn’t bad, either.
In a blunt introductory rebuke of Ahmadinejad’s hate-mongering rhetoric, Columbia President Lee Bollinger said, “Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator.”
Ahmadinejad called he Holocaust a fabrication and hosted a conference of Holocaust deniers.
“For the illiterate and ignorant, this is dangerous propaganda,” Bollinger said. “When you come to a place like this, this makes you, quite simply, ridiculous.
“You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated.”
The university president noted that Columbia is a world center of Jewish studies and has provided “an intellectual home” for innumerable Holocaust survivors and their families.
“The truth is that the Holocaust is the most documented event in human history,” he said.
Bollinger’s public blistering of Ahmadinejad already is receiving wide circulation through mainstream media and on the Internet. Inexplicably, he’s being criticized in some circles for being an impolite host.
But those might turn out to be the most important words Bollinger ever speaks, and the president’s evasiveness only served to better illuminate his dark, dangerous soul.
Ahmadinejad revels in the spotlight, but in doing so reveals himself as freedom’s genuine enemy.
He practices anti-Semitic doublespeak, insists the Holocaust is a historical “theory” that should be researched, instead of a fact never to be forgotten. In many respects, he attempts to use the existence of Israel the way a rising Hitler exploited Jews for political gain 75 years ago.
That might be what bruises Yarchever most, the fact that the lies flowing from Ahmadinejad’s mouth amount to the same misleading hate speech of so long ago.
Henry Ford talked that way. Hitler talked that way.
“I guess if you’re a survivor and you’ve been through that over and over, to have somebody say it never happened is hurtful,” says Yarchever, who counts many survivors among her closest friends. “It’s a battle all the time.
“It was a battle to survive in those camps, and it’s a battle again.”
This time, however, the Iranian president won’t be able to enjoy a cloak of silence from the world’s media.
His views are already well known, and even lethargic American audiences appear to be waking up and taking notice.
“I’m so tired of hate,” Yarchever says.
But never too tired to fight it.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 383-0295.JOHN L. SMITHMORE COLUMNSDiscuss this column in the eForums!