Bizarro Campus Protest

December 12, 2006
Posted by Jay Livingston

After a protest against the president, a student Website carried a statement that included the following: “The students showed that despite vast propaganda, the president has not been able to deceive academia.”

The students had shouted down the president, set fire to photos of him, threw firecrackers, and chanted, “Death to the dictator,” and kicked at the car in which he made his premature departure.

Nevertheless, according to the story in the Times, “The guards did not remove the students or use force to stop the protests,” although students at the protest were certain that some of the counter-demonstrators supporting the president were shills bused in by the Administration.

You’ve probably caught on by now that this was not in the US. (That “death to the dictator” is a giveaway. American protesters don’t call for death to anyone. Well, sometimes there are demonstrations in favor of capital punishment and the execution of particular criminals, but aside from those . . . ) And of course there's no way that US protestors could have come even close to within kicking distance of the president's limo.

The protest was in Iran, and the president was the somewhat loony Ahmadinejad.

The story seems like some bizarro mirror of reactions here to our own president and issues of free speech. But what if it had been the US? What if students at a university speech by President Bush had protested like this? Any chance that the guards wouldn’t use force to clear the protesters out? And is it possible that the administration, given advance warning of a protest, might bring in outside counterdemonstrators?

I’m not sure what the sociological moral of the story is. And I don’t mean to imply that students in Tehran are freer than their US counterparts. In fact, Ahmadinejad, as the Times reports, has “cracked down on dissent.” But the incident, and our reactions to it, may have some relevance for our own debates about free speech on campus.

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