Iran is poor country led by a tyrannical regime. Its primary exports are oil, hate, and terror. So what does Columbia University do? Well, the university invited Iran’s president to speak to the faculty and students. After some reflection and bad publicity, however, Columbia President Lee Bollinger decided to introduce his guest, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, this way (here).
Columbia President Lee Bollinger opened the program with a blistering introduction in which he lambasted Ahmadinejad for calling for the annihilation of Israel, denying the Holocaust and supporting the execution of children, and told the leader of Iran that he resembled “a petty and cruel dictator.”
Bollinger levied repeated criticisms against Ahmadinejad, calling on him to answer a series of challenges about his leadership, blasting his views about the “myth” of the Holocaust as being “absurd,” and saying that he doubted he “will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions.”
“You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated,” Bollinger told Ahmadinejad about the leader’s Holocaust denial. “Will you cease this outrage?”
In other words, Bolinger decided to attack the man his institution had invited as a guest.
News media reaction seemed surprisingly mixed. Most think Ahmadinejad made a fool of himself (here and here are examples). Nonetheless, some predictability remained. Time Magazine’s Joe Klein found a way to attack both Ahmadinejad and neoconservatives (here).
Of course, Ahmadinejad is no simpleton. He knows precisely how to exploit one of the few powers he does possess, the power to offend. He gains status in Iran and in the Islamic world by sticking his thumb in the giant’s eye. His Holocaust denial is a flagrant ploy — the easiest way to get a rise out of the Jewish community and, inevitably, U.S. politicians. Clearly, he benefits from his falsely inflated prominence. But who else does?
Well, at the top of the list are our old friends the neoconservatives, the folks who provided the intellectual rationale for Bush’s war in Iraq, many of whom are now itching for a war with Iran. Norman Podhoretz, the neocon paterfamilias, has written a trifle called World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism and loves to posit Ahmadinejad and Osama bin Laden—a far more dangerous character—as the heirs to Hitler and Stalin. “They follow the path of fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism,” he writes. This is incendiary foolishness.
“It wasn’t a set up, but it looks like that,” said Dorf.
Though Dorf said he would not have invited Ahmadinejad, he thought his presence raised consciousness in the US about exactly what the sins of Ahmadinejad were.
“In that sense, it served a useful function here,” said Dorf. “But we were not effective at persuading Iran or the world of the case against him by inviting him and then dumping on him.”
Normally, being asked to speak at a university is a great honor. While Ahmadinejad may have expected hostile questions, I seriously doubt he expected the treatment he got. Bollinger apparently provided this treatment to recover from some bad publicity. What the university president did, however, was to compound his error.
Ahmadinejad never should have been invited. He has done nothing that merits being so honored. Nonetheless, Ahmadinejad also should not have been set up and treated so roughly. When the university invited Ahmadinejad, they obligated themselves to treat him as a guest. Since when is it appropriate to insult a guest? While some naively consider this hub-bub a victory for the USA, my expectation is that Ahmadinejad will have little trouble spinning the story to his advantage in the Middle East.
Even our laughter will be spun. Iranians will not appreciate the fact the filthy heathens think their views on homosexuality are funny and backward. No nation likes to have their leader mocked by foreigners.
It is one thing for the Iranian president to put his own foot in his mouth. We can laugh, and the fault is his own. It is another thing entirely when we invite the Iranian president to speak as a guest and then mock him and subject him to ridicule. When we laugh at him then, often for things he has said in his own country, we do ourselves no favors. We merely prove we do not even understand the fundamental courtesy of treating a guest with proper respect.
Many Muslims hate us. What is more significant, however, is that most reject our ways. Here we saw an example. Much of the Islamic world considers homosexuality evil. They equate their intolerance of homosexuality with not allowing it to exist, with stamping it out.
Given that homosexuals must keep their preferences secret, Ahmadinejad’s statement about the rarity of homosexuals in Iran will likely strike most of his countrymen as quite reasonable. In fact when we laugh at their president for his “unsophisticated” views on this subject, our laughter will serve as proof to many Muslims our own corruption. These people do not see our views as superior. They see as us as so consumed by Satan’s sophistries we cannot see our sins. Treating a guest with so little hospitality merely serves to justify and strengthen this impression.
Here, Bolinger defends his treatment of Ahmadinejad.
Mosquito Blog analyzes the speech (here).
Reason & Revelation provides some analysis (here).
badrose responds to the speech with sarcasm (here).
Cathouse Chat lauds Bolinger and provides a video and transcript (here).