Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mr Ahmedinejad Visits Columbia University

I'm not sure whether Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, the President of Iran, completely understood what he was doing when he accepted the invitation to speak and take questions at Columbia University of New York yesterday. He had to know that he wouldn't be particularly popular in a liberal American university, but he came anyhow...I don't know whether that represents a fundamental misreading of the American character or overwhelming hubris or (most likely) both.

I have to say, though, that I was very disappointed in the reception Mr Ahmedinejad received, especially the boorish and uncalled-for ad hominem introduction by Columbia's president Lee Bollinger.

Make no mistake: I think Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is a loathsome human being. His denial of the Holocaust and call for Israel to be "wiped off the map" are hardly comments worthy of the president of a great nation. He ranks "up" there in my estimation with ludicrous blowhard Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. I was appalled at Mr Chavez's comments at the United Nations earlier this year, when he used his speech to belittle President Bush, calling him "the devil" and commenting on the lingering smell of sulfur following Mr Bush's appearance at the same podium. I don't like Mr Bush, but such a childish display of disrespect was uncalled for and worthy of condemnation.

Compare it to Mr Bollinger's introduction of Mr Ahmedinejad yesterday: "you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator." While I happen to agree with Mr Bollinger, all comments like these do are generate sympathy for an otherwise hateful figure, and diminish his own authority as the president of the university. His comments played well with the hometown crowd, but were inappropriate.

And then there was the classic "have you stopped beating your wife yet" moment when Mr Bollinger asked, "Why is your government providing aid to terrorists? Will you stop doing so and permit international monitoring to certify that you have stopped?" How did he expect Mr Ahmedinejad to react?

Freedom of speech is a cherished tradition in this country, although at many universities it seems to be granted only to those whose speech conforms to whichever direction the prevailing winds of political correctness blow. I believe that it's important to let everyone have his say, no matter how hateful or stupid it may be...because it gives other people the chance to hear, evaluate, and argue against those positions. There was some discussion at Columbia as to whether to grant Mr Ahmedinejad a platform from which to express his crackpot ideas, but by exposing those ideas to a skeptical audience we have the opportunity to rebut them and expose them for the intellectual sham they are. This can be done in a respectful fashion without reduction to the sort of ad hominem attacks shown by Mr Bollinger and Mr Chavez.

Mahmoud Ahmedinejad didn't win any friends with his dodging, weaving comments and his tendency to answer questions with other questions. Whatever credibility he might have had vanished in the moment that he denied that there were any homosexuals in Iran (a comment which drew laughter from the audience). He showed himself to be a simplistic intellectual lightweight.

Whatever else one might say about Mr Ahmedinejad, it took guts to face a hostile audience at an American university. Unfortunately, that university didn't cover itself with glory during the visit. One wonders how an American leader addressing a similar gathering in Iran would be received.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



The Mistress of the Dark said...

My guess it would play out the same if Mr. Bush when to a university in Iran. He's not the most loved US president in the world.

Amanda said...

I really don't understand how the university could invite somebody over and be that childish.

SusieQ said...

Childish? Boorish? There must be something terribly wrong with me that causes me to disagree here.

Bilbo said...

Susie, I appreciate your disagreement, but stand by my characterization of Mr Bollinger's actions. I am a strong believer in the practice of courtesy and respect, even to those who may not particularly deserve it. By inviting Mr Ahmedinejad to Columbia University, and then taking the opportunity to publically berate him, Mr Bollinger made a mockery out of the traditions of respect and free speech that a great university must represent. I don't like Mr Ahmedinejad either, but by fulminating at him as he did, Mr Bollinger only preached to the converted while he generated sympathy for Mr Ahmedinejad at home...I can hear Iranians now, complaining that their President was publically humiliated by those uncultured Americans. There are ways to expose Mr Ahmedinejad for the colossal buffoon he is without abusing him publically. I believe it would have been much better to ask respectful and pointed questions and then press relentlessly for straight answers...which would have exposed Mr Ahmedinejad's moral bankruptcy and ludicrous positions without offering him the partial sanctuary of playing the offended innocent.

I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one. But I'm glad you took the time to visit and to register your opinion. I don't expect everyone to agree with me...but I do appreciate those who think enough to respond. Have a good day! Bilbo.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Dis he expect those to all be on the same wavelength as him?

SusieQ said...

Bilbo, thank you for responding to me.

I favor speech which is respectful. I try to be respectful in all my dealing with others. I am not opposed to the idea of academic etiquette. I understand its importance. But there are special occasions and special people which call for breaking the rules and engaging in confrontational speech that is bold, straightforward, genuine, and, yes, even biting. I think this was one of those special occasions and Ahmadinejad one of those special people. Kudos to Bollinger, I say.

Did anyone expect Ahmadinejad to give straight, intelligible answers to the hard questions he would be asked? I don't think so. He was invited to Columbia University because the invitation provided an opportunity to confront the mind of evil and expose it. Ahmadinejad came to Columbia to make hay. No matter how he would have been received, he would have made hay out of it. Had everyone been nicey-nice to him, he would have turned to his supporters and said, "those Americans are a bunch of wieners" and that would have emboldened his supporters. But I am sure word of what Bollinger had to say to Ahmadinejad got back to those Iranians who want the man gone. So, Bollinger was able to embolden those Iranians and give them hope. That is how I see it.

As you say, we can agree to disagree. That is okay with me. I do enjoy reading yur blog when I have a chance.