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Reflecting on the 2007 event, Snider conceded that there was a “distinct difference between an open forum, or a public sighting or speaking, versus a private dinner.” He continued:
When Ahmadinejad came to Columbia in 2007, he was part of the World Leaders Forum, which is a real event. There was a lot of national attention then as well. The interesting thing is, in the moment when he was addressing folks…Ahmadinejad made a complete fool of himself.
This, in fact, raises and important point as to why opposing the private repast was necessary. “Whereas the speech in 2007 did, in the majority of its moments, reveal, to educated students and the rest of the world, that Ahmadinejad is an illogical madman,” Snider explained, “the dinner didn’t even afford those moments. It only could have acted as fuel for propaganda.” Co-organizer Eric Shaprio agreed. “You have dinner with family and friends. You don’t have dinner with hated world leaders and people who commit crimes against their own citizens.”
When the CIRCA invitation was revoked, the group of protesters decided that this was not the time to abandon the campaign. “Once we realized the dinner had been canceled, we moved to continue the rally under the premise of a more general protest of the human rights violations that take place every day in Iran — perpetrated by Ahmadinejad,” said Snider.
He further noted that Columbia University has a special role to fill with respect to international relations. “Columbia University is a unique place,” Snider observed. The close proximity to the United Nations and frequent opportunity to associate with world leaders — good or bad — creates a “larger burden of responsibility to bear,” he said.
Part of that responsibility is making people aware of the fact that, even if the dinner had taken place, it did not represent the only voice of the undergraduate community at CU. “We didn’t want [the CIRCA students] to be the sole undergraduate voices of Columbia.” Though much of the national attention was directed at the students who would meet with Ahmadinejad, “they did not speak for all of the students,” Snider said. “We wanted to contribute to the conversation.”
Fellow protest organizer Eric Shapiro echoed that sentiment, noting that “the real nuance here is that we felt as Columbia undergraduate students, we had a particular voice that we wanted heard.”
Those attending the rally heard from former Iranian political prisoner Shirin Nariman, who addressed the crowd that had gathered in front of East Campus. “When I was 17, I had a 13-year-old friend who was arrested and killed,” she said. “This is the oppressive Iranian regime, and we need to reject such a regime and their representatives, which is Ahmadinejad.” She then honed in her opposition on the dinner and the focal point of the rally. “It’s morally wrong. It shouldn’t be done,” Nariman said. “Many people were killed for a dictator to come to power. Is this what Columbia wants to associate with?”
The two other rally organizers also spoke. Sam Schube noted that “we’re here because we hold the modest, but at the same time really grand hope that we might use our voices to draw attention to those who are silenced, and those who refuse to remain silent in the face to unimaginable hardship.” David Fine explained that the rally “reminds Columbia and New York that although the terror of Tehran may be allowed to visit our city, though he may be allowed to sleep in our hotels, and eat in our diners, he will not do so as a welcome guest. Rather he will be greeted as the tyrant he is…”
The rally closed with a moment of silence.
Jacob Snider was proud of what he and his fellow organizers accomplished. “People have noticed,” he beamed. “They came up to me and said they know we four students got together and said something.” Noting the reality of student apathy, Snider was moved by the recognition and the knowledge that other students had been reached by the group’s message. He concluded:
I think it’s good for the spirit of saying what you believe. Apathy could be best defined in this situation as believing in something but being too passive to put those beliefs into action. I think I speak for the group when I say that we wanted to put our beliefs into action, not just go back to class and “say yeah, well….”
Indeed. The success of this counter-campaign demonstrates that a few courageous voices, who make the effort to be heard, can become a powerful tool for truth.
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