Two days ago, Columbia University announced that next Monday, September 24, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will speak and participate in a question and answer session with university faculty and students at Columbia. According to the university statement, "This opportunity for faculty and students to engage the President of Iran came about after Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee at the Iranian Mission to the United Nations initiated contact with Columbia through a member of the faculty, Richard Bulliet, who is a specialist on Iran."
So at the request of the Iranian government, Columbia University will host the president of a terrorist regime which is right now responsible for the deaths of American soldiers on the field of battle. Indeed, this distinguished guest, who is so honoring Columbia by his presence, will be introduced by no one less than the president of Columbia, Lee Bollinger.
But not to worry: "President Bollinger will introduce the event by challenging President Ahmadinejad on a number of his controversial statements and his government's policies."
Indeed, Bollinger manfully proclaimed in the university statement: "I also wanted to be sure the Iranians understood that I would myself introduce the event with a series of sharp challenges to the President on issues including:
* the Iranian President's denial of the Holocaust;
* his public call for the destruction of the state of Israel;
* his reported support for international terrorism that targets innocent civilians and American troops;
* Iran's pursuit of nuclear ambitions in opposition to international sanction;
* his government's widely documented suppression of civil society and particularly of women's rights; and
* his government's imprisoning of journalists and scholars, including one of Columbia's own alumni, Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh."
One can imagine President Ahmadinejad nervously preparing for President Bollinger's "sharp challenges," and wondering whether those challenges will detract from the propaganda victory Bollinger's invitation has given him. He's undoubtedly concluded it won't be a big problem.
It should go without saying that the appropriate thing to do, when the Iranian ambassador called Columbia, would have been to say: No thanks. Or just, No. But that would be to expect too much of one of today's Ivy League university presidents.
Now there will be further legitimization of the notion that Holocaust denial is a subject of legitimate and reasonable debate.
In fact, the introduction with "sharp challenges" by Bollinger makes the situation even more of a disgrace. Now there will be the appearance of real dialogue, of Ahmadinejad answering challenges, which further legitimizes the notion that Holocaust denial, say, is a subject of legitimate and reasonable debate.
But if Bollinger had chosen to deny Ahmadinejad's request, or not to dignify Ahmadinejad's appearance by his presence -- then Bollinger would have been denied the opportunity to lecture us, in Columbia's press release, to this effect: "It is a critical premise of freedom of speech that we do not honor the dishonorable when we open the public forum to their voices. To hold otherwise would make vigorous debate impossible. That such a forum could not take place on a university campus in Iran today sharpens the point of what we do here....This is America at its best."
Actually, this is a liberal university president at his stupidest.
Meanwhile: As Columbia welcomes Ahmadinejad to campus, Columbia students who want to serve their country cannot enroll in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) at Columbia. Columbia students who want to enroll in ROTC must travel to other universities to fulfill their obligations. ROTC has been banned from the Columbia campus since 1969. In 2003, a majority of polled Columbia students supported reinstating ROTC on campus. But in 2005, when the Columbia faculty senate debated the issue, President Bollinger joined the opponents in defeating the effort to invite ROTC back on campus.
A perfect synecdoche for too much of American higher education: they are friendlier to Ahmadinejad than to the U.S. military.
This article originally appeared in The Weekly Standard
A note from the Editors:
REPORT FROM THE COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PROTEST
Over one thousand students and community members came out to Columbia University today to protest the speech by Iranian President Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad was invited to speak by the President of Columbia, Lee Bollinger, who described the invitation to the Iranian President as "...the right thing to do and, indeed, it is required by existing norms of free speech, the American university, and Columbia itself."
Hasbara Fellowships (www.israelactivism.com), the Israel Activism campus organization of Aish International, organized the protest rally, along with other partner organizations.
We were not protesting the issue of free speech. We agree that if the President of Iran walked into Columbia University on his own, he would have the right to say what he wants. What we were protesting was the invitation by Columbia University to have this man speak. While there is no doubt that the greatness of the United States is heavily due to its relentless adherence to the concept of free speech, the concept of free speech does not obligate us to give a platform to the most abhorrent viewpoints.
While we could not win the battle of stopping Ahmadinejad from speaking at Columbia, we made sure to have our voices heard about why we so strongly opposed this man. Students from all over New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and even as far as Canada, came together to chant, sing, hold signs and posters and to clearly communicate a powerful message: hate and terror are not welcomed in the heart of New York City.
National and local media outlets all swarmed to Columbia and our protest to cover the various views and activities. CNN, Fox, NBC, CBS, ABC and others were all present.
Students brought signs and speakers shouted messages denouncing Ahmadinejad as the leader of the number one state-sponsor of terror; as a man who has publicly denied the Holocaust; as a man who has called for the destruction of Israel; as a man who has called for the Western World to be turned into an Islamic Caliphate; as the leader of a country that ruthlessly enacts a system of intolerance and sexism; as a leader of a country that brutally crushes all opposition.
I was asked by a reporter from CNN if I agreed with the viewpoint being espoused by many Columbia administrators and students, that we needed to listen to Ahmadinejad and have an exchange of ideas to better understand each other. I answered with a question: are we interested in having an "exchange of ideas" with the Ku Klux Klan? Why not invite them to campus to help us understand why they think all blacks are inferior to whites? Isn't that "required by existing norms of free speech"?
Of course not. And just as we would be shocked and disgusted to hear about an invitation to the Ku Klux Klan to speak at Columbia University, so should we be shocked and disgusted when this invitation is extended to a man who has denied the Holocaust of the past but is in support of committing one in the future.
Thankfully, over one thousand students and others were shocked and disgusted. Today at Columbia, their message was heard loud and clear.
Ahmadinejad on Broadway
Media circus around Iranian shouldn't obscure the high-stakes debate on nukes
By Jonathan S. Tobin
The biggest show on Broadway this week wasn't any of the plays or musicals packing in the tourists in a midtown theater. Rather than "The Drowsy Chaperone," "Spamalot" or the revival of "A Chorus Line," the hottest ticket was to the traveling show starring the man whom The New York Post dubbed a "pint-sized Persian" -- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The appearance of Iran's leader in the Big Apple to attend the annual U.N. General Assembly overshadowed all other world leaders at the international talking shop on Manhattan's Turtle Bay. His invitation to speak at Columbia University set off the sort of media frenzy usually reserved for the hi-jinks of O.J. Simpson or Britney Spears.
Columbia students, alumni and anyone who's ever heard of the school weighed on the propriety of the event. While panels attended by heads of state at the university's school of international affairs do not usually merit time even on C-Span, this one was broadcast live around the world on CNN.
15 Minutes of Fame
Columbia's embattled President Lee Bollinger was subjected to opprobrium before the event for the bad taste of inviting a Holocaust-denier to the sacred precincts of the Morningside Heights campus. But after using his literal -- as opposed to proverbial -- 15 minutes of fame to lambaste the somewhat befuddled Iranian, Bollinger became an American idol and the subject of a laudatory editorial in The New York Times that applauded the university's judgment.
At the Columbia forum, Ahmadinejad lost points even among the hard left, which tends to like anybody who hates America, Israel or the Jews, by denying not the Holocaust, but the existence of homosexuality in his nation of approximately 70 million people.
Coming across as more of a fool than a demon or Hitler-wannabe, Ahmadinejad may have garnered some applause from some in the audience in the hall, it isn't likely he won too many new American friends.
On campus and some 70 blocks south outside the United Nations, a largely Jewish crowd of protesters raged at the Iranian's impudence, and a bipartisan parade of politicians lined up to denounce Ahmadinejad's calls for Israel's destruction, his country's support of terrorism and its oft-publicized nuclear ambitions.
As for the rights and wrongs of the Columbia event itself, suffice it to say that anyone who thinks that free speech has anything to do with whether an Ivy League university gives a platform to a man who leads a murderous fundamentalist dictatorship isn't thinking clearly. As a former Columbian myself, I bow to no one in my affection for the place, but the scolding from Bollinger notwithstanding, the school dishonored itself.
A university that won't let the armed forces of the United States recruit or teach in an ROTC program on campus ostensibly because it dislikes the army's position on gays (though the hard-core anti-military feelings and contempt for patriotism of much of the faculty has more to do with it than support for gay rights) was in no position to play the free-speech card for Ahmadinejad.
If anything, it's easy to suspect that Bollinger seized the opportunity to grandstand against the Iranian (albeit with a searing indictment that deserved applause) more for his own public-relations profile than anything else.
While a great deal of time was wasted debating the invitation of a world leader who has called for the genocidal extermination of a member-state of the United Nations -- Israel -- and whether giving him a platform is a defense of freedom of speech or a travesty of it, is there any real will, as opposed to rhetorical lip service, among both the chattering classes and our politicians to doing something about Iran?
Will the question of what measures the West is prepared to take to halt the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, as well as its subsidization of Islamist terror, fade back to a blur once the circus leaves town?
Though no one wants to think about the alternative to sanctions, French President Sarkozy himself stated at the United Nations that appeasement of Iran will lead inevitably to "war."
The French, like the Americans and the Israelis, believe that diplomacy can do the trick if it is accompanied by the sort of tough sanctions against Iran that the U.S. House of Representatives voted for this week. But for all of the fine talk about international cooperation, there is little sign that the opposition of both Russia or China to a genuine sanctions regime against the Islamic republic will be enacted this year or at any time in the future.
Nor, one suspects, will that change, until those nations become convinced that an already war-weary America means what it says about squelching the mullahs mad plans to gain nuclear capability.
Forget About Hitler
The problem here is that the Ahmadinejad show was just that: a farce that did little to illustrate the fanatical nature of his regime's religious extremism, its deep involvement in international terrorism or its willingness to use any weapons it gets his hands on to wipe out the State of Israel.
Historical analogies are, at best, inexact, and often misleading. Contemporary Iran is not a clone of Nazi Germany. But given its size, strength and the way it can use its support of Shi'ites throughout the Middle East, as well as via alliance with Sunnis who share its anti-Western and anti-Semitic beliefs, it doesn't have to be in order to be an extraordinary threat to world peace, even without nukes.
If Ahmadinejad, or someone like him, gets their finger on a nuclear button, it won't matter that he doesn't resemble Hitler and seems more comical than threatening. If he ever gets the means and the opportunity to match his motive to commit mass murder of the Jews of Israel (or some other non-Islamist target), who cares if the differences between Shi'ite Islamism and National Socialism are enormous.
As virtually all of the American presidential candidates have shown, it takes no courage to huff and puff about Iran and back sanctions. But does anyone really believe that the international community will unite behind them? Despite the general revulsion felt for the Iranian, is there any doubt that support for the use of force against Iran if it proves necessary simply doesn't exist yet in this country?
The Ahmadinejad show was good theater, but anything that doesn't help galvanize American public opinion into realizing that action on this issue is a matter of life and death is nothing but a meaningless sideshow. If, within the next few years, Iran's nuclear plans are allowed to become a reality, it will be too late for debate about Ahmadinejad, but more than enough time to ponder a new round of genocide.
Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia. He can be contacted via e-mail at: