This morning, Meredith opened the show at the United Nations alongside Andrea Mitchell, just a few blocks away from our studios here in New York.
It's officially a nutty time to be here in the city, with some of the most talked-about world leaders convening at the UN this week. We've got embattled Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki, new French prime minister Nicolas Sarkozy, and, yes, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran. As a result, we've got more traffic, more police escorts and generally heightened security around town.
Ahmadinejad's arrival has touched off heated debates over whether he should be permitted to visit Ground Zero and whether Columbia University should have invited him to speak at the school's World Leaders Forum. There, he is to engage in a question and answer session with Columbia students and faculty members later today.
Beyond those comments, the State Department has labeled Iran a state sponsor of terrorism, aiding groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, is believed to be contributing arms to insurgents in Iraq, and Iran's nuclear program has been shrouded in mystery for years.
It's no secret: we don't like this regime. We don't like who they support, we don't like what they say, and we don't like the way they treat their people. Instead of improving economic conditions for his people, Ahmadinejad's regime has instead cracked down on things like the national dress code (more than a million people have been arrested for violating clothing laws since April). Such is the domestic situation in Iran, that some analysts believe that two years from now, he'll be voted out of office.
But returning to the present -- doesn't restricting Ahmadinejad from speaking here, and for criticizing Columbia for giving him a forum, run counter to what our country is all about? Aren't we supposed to be in favor of free speech, of having a dialogue about world issues?
When I heard former House speaker Newt Gingrich say that Ahmadinejad's visit to Columbia was "an outrage against civilization" and called the president Iran "a dictator," I almost fell out of my chair (truth be told, I was sitting on my couch and had no physical reaction).
First of all, the hyperbole is almost comical. An "outrage against civilization"? Really? Second, calling Ahmadinejad a "dictator" would be news to his boss, Iran's supreme leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Regardless, we don't have to agree with what Ahmadinejad says, and we don't even have to listen to him. In fact, I'm all in favor of people protesting his comments. But I think denying him the opportunity to speak -- and criticizing Columbia for offering him that chance -- gives him the same kind of treatment that he forces on so many of his people back home in Iran.