Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Students Discover Ahmadinejad

When they were done with their world map tests, I told them, they could use their laptops to go online and answer the question I had written on the board: “What does Mahmoud Ahmadinejad believe about the Twelfth Imam?” I told them Ahmadinejad was the President of Iran, and they had learned about where Iran and many other countries were for the test. It was Friday and I knew Ahmadinejad was coming to New York City over the weekend and that his name and face would be all over the news. “Use a search engine and those names for key words in your searches,” I instructed.

Ahmadinejad believes the Twelfth Imam, or the “Mahdi,” is a nine-year-old boy who has been living in an Iranian well for thirteen hundred years, kept alive by Allah. The Iranian president believes that if he can create enough chaos on earth, the Mahdi will emerge from the well and preside over the earth during a thousand-year period of justice and peace.

“Wow,” said a boy as he was reading his screen. “This guy says the Holocaust never happened. Is he crazy?” I looked around the room. Some students were finishing up their tests and others were intently reading from their screens. One girl had her hand up. When I walked to her desk she was pointing to the word “Mahdi” on her screen. “Is that the Twelfth Imam?” she asked.

“That’s him,” I said. “Read on.”

“I don’t have my computer with me,” said a boy as he brought his test up. “It lost its charge.”

I printed a two-year-old article from the London Daily Telegraph with the story of Ahmadinejad’s devotion to the Twelfth Imam. “All the information is in the article coming out of the printer now,” I told him. “Read it.”

“He wants to go to Ground Zero,” said another boy reading from his computer screen. “But the NYPD doesn’t want to protect him because they think he’s a terrorist.”

The following Monday, we were correcting the map tests in class. I had the television on as classes were changing and while I was taking attendance. All day long, the cable news shows were broadcasting heated debates between pundits over whether Columbia University should have invited Ahmadinejad to speak there. I’d let it run a minute or two, then shut off the TV and tell them: “President Ahmadinejad says the Holocaust never happened and that he is going to ‘wipe Israel off the map.’ Against international law, he’s trying to build nuclear weapons with which to do so, but he tells the world he’s only trying to make peaceful nuclear power plants. Nobody believes him. He trains and sends money to ‘Hizbollah’ - the Shiite terrorist group in Lebanon responsible for killing hundreds of US Marines two decades ago and which regularly shoots rockets into northern Israel. Ahmadinejad trains other Shiite terrorists to sneak into Iraq with weapons and explosive devices to kill American soldiers fighting there. Other than that, he’s a nice guy.”

As the last period of the day was beginning, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger was making a live speech to an auditorium full of students. President Ahmadinejad was seated on the stage listening and waiting his turn. I told students in that group that we would watch the speeches and correct tests the next day instead. Some were disappointed. Others watched and listened to the speeches intently. Bollinger excoriated Ahmadinejad for all the things I had been telling students at the beginning of each class earlier that day. It was a blistering speech.

When Ahmadinejad came to the podium, he invoked God and the Twelfth Imam: “Oh God, hasten the arrival of Imam al-Mahdi and grant him good health and victory and make us his followers and those who attest to his right fullness.” Then he responded to Bollinger’s verbal attack essentially by saying it was impolite to invite someone and then say nasty things about him before he speaks. Then Ahmadinejad went on at length about studying science and searching for truth.

“He’s talking in circles,” said a boy.

“He’s not making much sense,” said a girl. Class ended while Ahmadinejad was still speaking. Several students were shaking their heads as they walked past the TV. I watched and listened to the rest of the speech as busses were being called.

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