ANALYS: Hypocrisy and the end of empires

Culture of hypocrisy which existed during the Bush era continues to thrive in the US today [EPA]

Every so often, a convergence occurs between a few ostensibly unrelated events in the endless swirl of news stories, polemics and propaganda, spin and advertising that make up the media sphere today.

Like the noonday sun, they pierce a hole through the fog of information that normally obscures the core dynamics behind the larger political-economic system’s smooth functioning.

But unlike the sun shining through the storm clouds, this opening is not immediately obvious, and can easily be missed if one does not know where and how to look. In fact, it is more like a three-dimensional worm hole through political space, viewable if one folds specific coordinates over each other in just the right way.

In this case, the coordinates correspond to three levels of political discourse – military, media and cultural – whose harmonious interaction is crucial to the larger functioning of the system.

The brief moment of clarity reminds us of the crucial role played by one of the most subtle yet damning of human vices – hypocrisy – in sustaining the problems confronting the US, and most other global powers for that matter.

Hypocrisy laid bare
Has the US healthcare debate created an increasingly toxic political culture? [AFP]

Hypocrisy has always been an important denomination of political currency, but today it has seemingly become the coin of the realm.

One could easily ascribe it to the reascending of right-wing politics in the US and Europe, which is almost always accompanied by a politics of hypocrisy, since as a rule such politics involves the use of populist rhetoric to concentrate a country’s wealth and resources in the hands of ever fewer people.

In the US, the vitriolic Republican-corporate attacks on healthcareand other much needed reforms in the name of protecting the rights of individual citizens, reflect an increasingly toxic political culture and the power of the right to manipulate deep-seated fears and prejudice for its own ends.

However, the continuities in US foreign policy between the Obama and Bush administrations reflect a more systemic hypocrisy whose negative consequences have global implications.

The US – like great powers before it – has long declared its intention to support freedom, democracy and progress while pursuing policies that encourage, or even demand, their opposite.

Not surprisingly, it has also turned a blind eye to its allies’ or clients’ hypocrisies: Israel declaring its desire for peace while intensifying occupation, Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, promising to fight corruption while rigging elections and placing family members in crucial positions.

Then you have this or that Arab leader pledging democratic reform while continuing to arrest and abuse citizens – until the disconnect between words and deeds threatens core American interests.

With enemies, such as Iraq (under Saddam Hussein) or Iran today, hypocrisy is assumed, even when evidence suggests that at crucial moments they might actually be telling the truth.

But who’s looking?

Whether friend or foe, it is the people who suffer from a geopolitics grounded in hypocrisy.

The hardships of the present economic downturn in the USonly hint at the pain caused to the peoples of the developing world, who bear the brunt of the full power of the economic and political interests lying beneath the hypocrisy of the global powers and their leaders alike.

And these consequences are often not just painful, but deadly.

Two generations ago in Southeast Asia the death toll reached into the millions, today in Iraq and Afghanistan the toll is in the hundreds of thousands of dead and injured. But the suffering rarely makes headlines, unless it can produce images that are too powerful to ignore.

The Abu Ghraib scandalproduced one such moment, although its quick dissipation (perhaps owing to an innate sense among many Americans that the hypocrisy they revealed was ultimately not merely that of the Bush administration, but the country as a whole) ensured that the Bush administration and Republican-controlled Congress paid no price for the activities they revealed.

The most recent opening in the haze of media and political hypocrisy began with the near simultaneous revelations of civilian deaths at the hands of US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The now ubiquitous Wikileaks video footageof soldiers firing on Reuter’s photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, his colleague Saeed Chmagh, and several other civilians in Baghdad in July 2007 was equalled in graphic power by the accusations that in February 2010, US special forces personnel had not only killed two pregnant women along with a teenage girl and two local officials in Khataba, Afghanistan, but carved the bullets out of the bodies to remove evidence of their responsibility for the deaths.

The hypocrisy of the official responses has been glaringly on display.

When asked whether the Wikileaks video would hurt America’s image, Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, said it would not, precisely because what the video really showed was the fog of war.

“These people were operating in split-second situations …. And, you know, we’ve investigated it very thoroughly …. It should not have any lasting consequences.”

‘Dead bastards’
In military footage released by Wikileaks, Iraqi fatalities were called “dead bastards” [AFP]

Hypocrisy is often accompanied by arrogance.

Gates assumes that scenes of US soldiers blithely calling the victims “dead bastards,” laughing, looking for an excuse to finish off an unarmed victim, and blaming other victims for “bringing their kids into a battle” will “not have any lasting consequences”.

Consequences for whom, one might ask.

Perhaps Gates understands that most Iraqis and Afghans have long ago stopped believing US rhetoric about supporting democracy and protecting civilian lives.

Whether consciously or not, it seems Gates was considering public opinion in the US, not in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Indeed, if we look behind his, and the soldiers’, words we are reminded that it is extremely difficult to shoot people who do not present an immediate and clear threat unless you have first been desensitised by intense ideological preparation that dehumanises the occupied people.

As in Vietnam, this dehumanisation means that Iraqis and Afghan civilian deaths are easily accepted as mere collateral damage, since Americans have no connection to or sympathy for the peoples they have been occupying for most of the last decade.

The latest polls show that “voters are very responsive where Democrats talk boldly about our foreign policy of taking it to the terrorists”.

And so even as four more civilians were killed by US forces firing on a crowded bus a day after Gates’ remarks, Americans show no signs of changing the “secondary status” that Iraq and Afghanistan presently hold in their political discourse.

That would demand recognition of the hypocrisy that enabled their relegation to such a low status in the first place, even at the cost of upward of a trillion dollars and the loss of thousands of American soldiers.

Worse, it would demand a reevaluation of the larger premises upon which the unending ‘war on terror’ is being fought and confronting the fact that in so many areas, Obama is entrenching rather than reversing the policies of his predecessor.

Of course, Afghans are far less tolerant of the disconnect between US rhetoric and reality.

The latest deaths caused a new round of bitter protests against the US occupation while Afghan military leaders increasingly treat US promises to protect and respect civilians as meaningless and, like Karzai, even threaten to join the Taliban.

Tariq Ramadan’s return

Gates’ remarks and the more unscripted real-time comments of the soldiers he was defending exist in a media sphere that has failed miserably to educate the American public about the motivations behind and present-day realities of the Iraq and Afghan invasions and occupations.

Underlying this dynamic is a shared arrogance and hypocrisy by leading American commentators, especially those often portrayed as politically liberal or moderate, that was crucial to laying the groundwork for public acceptance of the rationale for going to war and continuing the occupations despite the numerous and manifest contradictions between them and the realities on the ground.

The process by which this dynamic proceeds was revealed last week in the coverage of the return of Swiss Muslim theologian Tariq Ramadan to the US for a speaking tour, six years after he was banned from entering the country by the Bush administration.

Debating with Packer
Tariq Ramadan has been lauded by Haaretz for repudiating anti-Semitism [EPA]

Specifically, Ramadan’s first event in the US was a forum on “secular Islam and democracy” held in New York, where he debated New Yorker writer George Packer.

Packer chose not to engage Ramadan, who has spent over a decade working to forge a consensus among European Muslims on the need for non-violence and to produce identities that can be both fully Muslim and Western, on the issues related to the forum’s title.

Rather, while declaring that he was “not asking you to repudiate your grandfather [Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood],” he demanded that Ramadan account for and renounce anti-Semitic remarks made by al-Banna well over half a century ago.

At a time when the contemporary Muslim Brotherhood is engaged in an unprecedented generational shift in ideology and attitudes, Packer honed in his criticism of Ramadan for refusing to acknowledge that “his grandfather and the Muslim Brotherhood in its origins were characterised by anti-Semitic or totalitarian views”.

Although he has held prestigious appointments at Oxford as well as Notre Dame and the University of Geneva, Packer argues that Ramadan “is not a philosopher, or an original thinker”.

He provides no  criteria for this judgement, but that is likely because he assumes that most readers will accept at face value that leading thinkers from the Muslim world are rarely original or philosophic – a code word for reasonable and rational, presumably like Americans and Europeans.

For his part, Packer would seem to fit neither characterisation; the term, never mind ideology of “totalitarianism” he accused al-Banna of harbouring was not even in use when the Brotherhood was founded or first rose to prominence.

‘Rotten foundations’

Packer concludes that however well-meaning his bridge-building, Ramadan’s hope of reconciling Islamic and Western culture is built on “rotten foundations,” namely the history and ideology of the Brotherhood.

How does he know this? Clearly not by reading Ramadan’s numerous books, which are clearly opposed to most of the basic tenets of the Brotherhood during his grandfather’s day.

Instead, in good Orientalist fashion, Packer refers to second-hand accusations against Ramadan made by journalist Paul Berman, who is about to publish a book accusing Ramadan of being a propagandist for Islamist extremism.

Berman’s last foray into the subject of Islam was Terror and Liberalism, which was celebrated in the mainstream media for, among other things, arguing that Sayyid Qutb was the ideological godfather of al-Qaeda – which scholars had been discussing for years before his “discovery” – and that political Islamist movements are ultimately “irrational” and therefore cannot be reasoned with.

Most scholarly reviews by those who actually know the region and its languages were largely critical of Berman’s arguments.

US view of Muslims

Ramadan could have responded to Packer’s constant pressure for him to denounce his grandfather by demanding that Packer renounce his support for the US invasion of Iraq, or his inaccurate and journalistically irresponsible dismissal of those who opposed the war – which included Ramadan – as fringe, knee-jerk and “doctrinaire” leftists who lacked any “understanding” of the region.

Perhaps he was being polite, or was too jet-lagged to respond in kind to attacks that had nothing to do with his own thinking (indeed, Ramadan has condemned anti-Semitism so many times that he was praised for doing so by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz).

Ultimately, however, it is not Ramadan’s refusal to engage Packer at a lower level of discourse that is important; it is the assumption by Packer, no doubt borne out by long experience, that his arguments as to the rotten foundation and ultimately irrational basis of Ramadan’s thinking will be accepted in the media sphere, since they accord so well with the general view of Muslim intellectual capabilities and motives.

Tiger Woods
Woods’ fall mirrors the corruptive hypocrisy in the US today [AFP]

While Packer and Ramadan debated in New York City, Tiger Woods was preparing for his return to competitive golf at the Master’s tournament that would begin later in the week.

Of all the sins Woods has been accused of, perhaps the most ubiquitous was his hypocrisy – creating a persona based on steely calm, control, integrity, and determination while in reality his private life was based on deceit and violating the trust of his family and fans.

This is no doubt a valid criticism, but by the time the first round began on Thursday most people were far more interested in what Tiger would do on the golf course than what he had done off the links.

Of course, no one could say this openly. And so Billy Payne, the chair of the Masters tournament, dutifully criticised Woods, stating that he “disappointed all of us” with his numerous marital infidelities.

Of course, neither he nor any of the journalists present thought it worth mentioning that Augusta National remains one of the few golf clubs that refuses to admit women as players. Apparently no one considered it the least bit hypocritical for a club that does not consider women worthy of membership to criticise a member and champion who treats women as unworthy of consideration beyond their sex.

With so much money riding on Woods’ return to the spotlight, his main endorser, Nike, also decided it had to make a bold statement criticising Woods, while at the same time reaffirming both his iconic status and the possibility of redemption.

So it aired a commercial that saw Woods staring blankly into the camera while his late father, Earl, asked him from the grave about what he was thinking and what he had learnt.

That a company such as Nike, whose alleged record of systematic mistreatment of workers and use of child labour has been heavily criticised around the world, determined that the ghost of Woods’ father could help cleanse him, and the company, of their sins, is one of the more egregious examples of corporate hypocrisy in some time.

Hypocrisy’s victory

But the reality is they are probably right. Everyone is clearly anxious to get back to the way it was, and by the time Woods walked toward the 18th green on Sunday he was smiling and shaking hands with his course partner for the day, K.J. Choi, while receiving a standing ovation from the crowd.

No doubt most of those in attendance and watching on television will be happy to see Woods resume his golfing prowess. After all, no public figure better symbolised the power, purpose and determination of the US in the 2000s.

His fall from grace in many ways mirrored America’s – the gleaming steel surface and sunny gaze turned out to be, if not quite rotten, then in need of major repair.

The blow-back of Woods’ behaviour is being played out in front of the world. So is that of US policy. With enough reflection and determination, one can hope that Woods will rise above the hypocrisy that apparently has defined much of his professional and personal life.

But it is much harder for countries to do this, as it demands not one, but millions of people, from political leaders and commentators to ordinary citizens, to reflect deeply and honestly on what brought them to their present situation.

Perhaps if the fog remains lifted for long enough, one may be able to grasp the beginnings of the process of moving away from political and media cultures based on hypocrisy, greed and power and toward cultures that actually support peace, freedom and dignity.

Ref; Al jazeera

Mark LeVine is currently visiting professor at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University, Sweden. His books include Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam and Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Iranian University Chancellors Ask Bollinger 10 Questions

Seven chancellors and presidents of Iranian universities and research centers, in a letter addressed to their counterpart in the US, Colombia University, denounced Lee Bollinger’s insulting words against the Iranian nation and president and invited him to provide responses to 10 questions by Iranian academics and intellectuals.

The following is the full text of the letter:

Mr. Lee Bollinger
Columbia University President

We, the professors and heads of universities and research institutions in Tehran, hereby announce our displeasure and protest at your impolite remarks prior to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent speech at Columbia University.

We would like to inform you that President Ahmadinejad was elected directly by the Iranian people through an enthusiastic two-round poll in which almost all of the country’s political parties and groups participated. To assess the quality and nature of these elections you may refer to US news reports on the poll dated June 2005.

Your insult, in a scholarly atmosphere, to the president of a country with a population of 72 million and a recorded history of 7,000 years of civilization and culture is deeply shameful.

Your comments, filled with hate and disgust, may well have been influenced by extreme pressure from the media, but it is regrettable that media policy-makers can determine the stance a university president adopts in his speech.

Your remarks about our country included unsubstantiated accusations that were the product of guesswork as well as media propaganda. Some of your claims result from misunderstandings that can be clarified through dialogue and further research.

During his speech, Mr. Ahmadinejad answered a number of your questions and those of students. We are prepared to answer any remaining questions in a scientific, open and direct debate.

You asked the president approximately ten questions. Allow us to ask you ten of our own questions in the hope that your response will help clear the atmosphere of misunderstanding and distrust between our two countries and reveal the truth.

1- Why did the US media put you under so much pressure to prevent Mr. Ahmadinejad from delivering his speech at Columbia University? And why have American TV networks been broadcasting hours of news reports insulting our president while refusing to allow him the opportunity to respond? Is this not against the principle of freedom of speech?

2- Why, in 1953, did the US administration overthrow Iran’s national government under Dr Mohammad Mosaddegh and go on to support the Shah’s dictatorship?

3- Why did the US support the blood-thirsty dictator Saddam Hussein during the 1980-88 Iraqi-imposed war on Iran, considering his reckless use of chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers defending their land and even against his own people?

4- Why is the US putting pressure on the government elected by the majority of Palestinians in Gaza instead of officially recognizing it? And why does it oppose Iran’s proposal to resolve the 60-year-old Palestinian issue through a general referendum?

5- Why has the US military failed to find Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden even with all its advanced equipment? How do you justify the old friendship between the Bush and Bin Laden families and their cooperation on oil deals? How can you justify the Bush administration’s efforts to disrupt investigations concerning the September 11 attacks?

6- Why does the US administration support the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) despite the fact that the group has officially and openly accepted the responsibility for numerous deadly bombings and massacres in Iran and Iraq? Why does the US refuse to allow Iran’s current government to act against the MKO’s main base in Iraq?

7- Was the US invasion of Iraq based on international consensus and did international institutions support it? What was the real purpose behind the invasion which has claimed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives? Where are the weapons of mass destruction that the US claimed were being stockpiled in Iraq?

8- Why do America’s closest allies in the Middle East come from extremely undemocratic governments with absolutist monarchical regimes?

9- Why did the US oppose the plan for a Middle East free of unconventional weapons in the recent session of the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors despite the fact the move won the support of all members other than Israel?

10- Why is the US displeased with Iran’s agreement with the IAEA and why does it openly oppose any progress in talks between Iran and the agency to resolve the nuclear issue under international law?

Finally, we would like to express our readiness to invite you and other scientific delegations to our country. A trip to Iran would allow you and your colleagues to speak directly with Iranians from all walks of life including intellectuals and university scholars. You could then assess the realities of Iranian society without media censorship before making judgments about the Iranian nation and government.

You can be assured that Iranians are very polite and hospitable toward their guests.

Wake Up, America: Iran is Not What You Think

Winston Churchill said, “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war,” and one ought to frame Columbia University’s debate in such a context. But the invitation proved to be a cheap and failed ruse, put on by aggressive and skewed observers who once supported cakewalk actions and are now suffering from intellectual bankruptcy.

The opening comments of Lee Bollinger, the president of the University, fell far short of objective debate. The professor tried to hide behind an academic façade to deliver a rehashed version of retail and junk news, in all likelihood courtesy of Google. He allowed himself to comment about capital punishment in Iran, as if the U.S. has no such thing, and went as far as calling the Iranian President a “petty, cruel dictator”. Perhaps Lee Bollinger is still stuck in the Iran of 30 years ago and he confused Ahmedinejad with the Shah, America’s man in Tehran. It was exemplary of how Americans, and American foreign policy, are stuck in the past, and how Americans are resistant to acknowledge just how thick the self-isolation bubble that surrounds them has become.

It was also amazing to see the American Rainman repeat the same questions over and over again. A reporter from CBS’ 60 Minutes asked tough questions in an interview in Tehran, which was broadcast on Sunday and subsequently reported in newspapers and more than 2000 websites. The very next day, the National Press Club members repeated the same questions, and later that day, an academic put the same questions to President Ahmedinejad a third time. Somehow, the CBS reporter, the National Press Club and the professor did not recall that it is their treasure and blood that funds Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and the death and destruction of Iraq. (They are probably too busy congratulating themselves on their massive foreign aid of US$20 per Palestinian!).

These self-elected thinkers and news producers are stuck in a box of rehashed propaganda and have no mind for an objective debate. When was the last time that you read a report that compares Iran, and Iranians, with regional countries in the same league? Has anyone asked whether Iranian women are better off than their Saudi neighbours? Or how many elections were held in Iran prior to the Revolution? Has anyone taken the time to observe that the Iran of today has made tangible progress when compared with the Iran of 30 years ago – when it imported more than half of its food and all of its cars, pharmaceuticals and military hardware? And why is it that the United States can prosecute its own citizens as “enemy combatants” but Iran should not confront agitators that are funded by foreigners?

Americans must realize that it is time to accept Iran as it is today, and not as they daydream it to be, as some sort of a retro-1950s creampuff headed by a brutal puppet. Such realization must also extend to universal application of international law, and to the naked truth that isolation methods have failed. Americans must also take note that their foreign policy extends beyond the interests of a small country in the Middle East that has less than half the population of Tehran.

Is it finally time to engage in a proper, cool-headed and objective debate? Have isolationist daydream policies worked in Cuba? What was achieved, or lost, by not talking to Fidel Castro? Have militarist endeavours in Iraq produced a western-style, liberal and open democracy anywhere else in the Middle East, or are they still run by “petty, cruel” regimes?

This atmosphere, and the amateurish psychological pressure of foreign lobbies piled on the American bubble lead me to Churchill’s description of the USSR: this situation appears to be a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, concealed in an enigma. That is probably the best description of the mindset of contemporary America in this global village.

Ref: PostGlobal, by Dr. Ali Ettefagh

Dr. Ali Ettefagh serves as a director of Highmore Global Corporation, an investment company in emerging markets of Eastern Europe, CIS, and the Middle East

Debating Ahmadinejad at Columbia

A tall man with white hair, wearing a US-flag print shirt and pants, patrolled the sidewalk at 116th and Broadway. He waved a huge American flag as he marched, in movements that were nearly metronomic in their consistency. Stacks of brochures sat on a bare and rickety table, waiting to be handed out to anyone who didn’t look away quickly enough. Bystanders stared.

I hadn’t been back to my former school almost since I graduated. Returning as an alumna of the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), the school that sponsored Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s talk here on Monday, I felt the puff of pride that Columbia had not backed down in the face of media pressure. I also felt just a little bit cheated that it was happening now, when I was attending as an outsider, rather than the first time his talk had been announced, in 2006, when I was still a sleep-deprived student.

The police officers stationed in and around the university, beginning at the platform of the subway that I had taken to get there, looked at everyone suspiciously. Women in dark, severe suits monitored the entry of the press, taking signatures and examining credentials. Everywhere, people in uniforms directed the human traffic and at certain entrances demanded identification. Fliers lined the walkway to the main quadrangle and littered the brick paths. Students milled around the campus, talking excitedly in tight groups or listening to the speakers outside Low Library. Homemade placards offered silent counterpoint to some of the speeches delivered at the podium. “Ahmadinejad Is not Iran Just Like Bush Is not America,” said one. “We Say No to War on Iran,” proclaimed another. And a third, my favorite, in black paint on a wood sheet: “Free Speech for All, Even Douche Bags.”

Debating Ahmadinejad at Columbia

Jayati Vora

Web Letters (16)

A tall man with white hair, wearing a US-flag print shirt and pants, patrolled the sidewalk at 116th and Broadway. He waved a huge American flag as he marched, in movements that were nearly metronomic in their consistency. Stacks of brochures sat on a bare and rickety table, waiting to be handed out to anyone who didn’t look away quickly enough. Bystanders stared.

I hadn’t been back to my former school almost since I graduated. Returning as an alumna of the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), the school that sponsored Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s talk here on Monday, I felt the puff of pride that Columbia had not backed down in the face of media pressure. I also felt just a little bit cheated that it was happening now, when I was attending as an outsider, rather than the first time his talk had been announced, in 2006, when I was still a sleep-deprived student.

The police officers stationed in and around the university, beginning at the platform of the subway that I had taken to get there, looked at everyone suspiciously. Women in dark, severe suits monitored the entry of the press, taking signatures and examining credentials. Everywhere, people in uniforms directed the human traffic and at certain entrances demanded identification. Fliers lined the walkway to the main quadrangle and littered the brick paths. Students milled around the campus, talking excitedly in tight groups or listening to the speakers outside Low Library. Homemade placards offered silent counterpoint to some of the speeches delivered at the podium. “Ahmadinejad Is not Iran Just Like Bush Is not America,” said one. “We Say No to War on Iran,” proclaimed another. And a third, my favorite, in black paint on a wood sheet: “Free Speech for All, Even Douche Bags.”

Representatives of various organizations were eloquent in their denunciation of Ahmadinejad’s professed views on Israel and the treatment of women and homosexuals in Iran, yet many supported his right to speak at the university. Many declared that they had never felt prouder to be associated with Columbia. Some said that they had never felt more ashamed.

Matteen Mokalla, an Iranian-American student at SIPA studying the Middle East, spoke of the mood on campus. “Before the talk, the entire campus was electrified,” he said. “Everybody was talking about it. When we were standing in line, we joked, ‘Is this the line for the Rolling Stones?’ Because it felt like that.”

But that pride and excitement was tarnished by the opening remarks of Columbia President Lee Bollinger. In his statement, combative and unduly vicious, Bollinger accused his invited guest of being nothing more than a “petty and cruel dictator,” of having a “fanatical mindset.” He claimed that this exercise was valuable in knowing one’s enemies and understanding “the mind of evil.”

These words were prefaced by his describing the invitation to Ahmadinejad as the “right thing to do.” As abhorrent as Bollinger’s parroting of Bushisms is, the invite was the right thing to do. Not because the Iranian president has a right to share some of his more odious views but because of “our right to listen. We do it for ourselves.”

But where were all these references to freedom of speech just last year, when Bollinger first endorsed, then rescinded, the SIPA invitation to Ahmadinejad? Then-SIPA dean Lisa Anderson had invited the Iranian leader to give a lecture. Bollinger has claimed that the invitation was taken back because he wasn’t sure that the exchange would reflect the “academic values” that the platform stood for. He also called Ahmadinejad’s views “repugnant.” Campus gossip, however, put the reason as outside pressure. What else could it have been, the whispers went, when the university president at first endorsed Dean Anderson’s invite but backed off the next day?

That’s why it was all the more disappointing when students showed up to hear their president uphold all the values of free speech in the face of withering media criticism–only to hear him stoop to name-calling.

“Bollinger’s remarks were uncalled for,” said Julie Payne, a second-year SIPA student and co-editor of SIPA’s student newspaper, Communique. “There was no need for a fifteen-minute tirade, nor for using some of the adjectives he did. Everyone disagrees with [Ahmadinejad’s] rhetoric, but debate shouldn’t be so debased by using that language.” Bollinger’s opening remarks changed the nature of the discussion at Columbia. After the talk, said Mokalla, “the discussion was not about Ahmadinejad at all. Bollinger was outrageous. If he feels this way about him, why invite this man? Twenty of us were talking about it for two hours afterward. It was a bit embarrassing because he sounded like President Bush or like a neoconservative ideologue.”

Bollinger’s comments were radically different from other introductions he has given in the course of the World Leaders Forum, an annual cluster of talks hosted by Columbia, where visiting heads of state are invited to address students on campus.

I remember attending a similar lecture two years ago, in the fall of 2005, in my first semester as a SIPA student. It was a talk by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a leader closer to my home country. As one of many Indian students at the event, I burned with questions I was dying to pose about democracy, women’s rights and peace with India.

Then, as yesterday, we arrived more than an hour in advance. On each of our seats was a pamphlet with a brief history of the leader. I was astonished to find that, according to his biography, Musharraf “assumed the office of chief executive of Pakistan in October 1999.” There was no mention of the coup through which Musharraf seized power. Not once did Bollinger refer to the military man, who had overthrown the elected government and then refused to hold elections as promised, as a dictator–a word he seemed to have no problem using to describe Ahmadinejad. The question of how Musharraf “assumed office” was delicately avoided, a diplomatic skill that has clearly been forgotten in these two intervening years. No one seemed curious to know how Musharraf’s rhetoric about democracy fit in with his continued reign as a dictator–at least, no one with access to a mike.

Neither Bollinger nor the press has been so forgiving of Ahmadinejad. He has been attacked in all quarters–from the front pages of New York’s daily newspapers to the sidewalks outside Columbia’s main gates to the podium where he was invited to speak. He has been called “thug,” “madman,” “tyrant,” “dictator” and more. And in this volley of words, an important opportunity was lost.

Sitting with a bunch of his Iranian friends on the lawn with the thousands who couldn’t get into the lecture hall, Bill Berkeley professed himself disappointed with the direction of the debate. An adjunct professor at Columbia’s School of Journalism, Berkeley is the author of a book on Rwanda and is currently at work on another on Iran. “I didn’t feel the discussion moved forward,” he said.

For in the melee of questions about the Holocaust and wiping Israel off the map, Ahmadinejad got off with mouthing generalities about loving all nations and admitting that the Holocaust had indeed taken place. (“Given that the Holocaust is a present reality of our time,” said the Iranian president, “we should have research to approach this from different perspectives.”) He got a free pass on issues that many Iranians would have liked to see raised, such as women’s rights, homosexuality (according to Ahmadinejad, homosexuals simply do not exist in Iran) and the misdeeds of the Revolutionary Guard.

Iranian SIPA student Hani Mansourian knows what his question would have been. “I would have asked him, ‘If you support a referendum in Palestine, and if you say that women are free in Iran, why don’t you hold a referendum in Iran and ask women whether they want to wear the hijab or not?'” For all his evasion of questions posed to him, on some points Ahmadinejad was eloquent and passionate. His support for the Palestinian people dominated the speech. “For sixty years, these people are being killed. For sixty years, on a daily basis, there’s conflict and terror. For sixty years, innocent women and children are destroyed and killed by helicopters and airplanes that break the house over their heads.”

He was persuasive when it came to Iran’s nuclear policy. Recalling the after-effects of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he asked, “What can a perpetual nuclear umbrella threat achieve for the sake of humanity?”

In this face-off between Bollinger’s prefacing remarks and Ahmadinejad’s speech, the university president “made Ahmadinejad look the winner,” said Mansourian, “and that’s not what I wanted.” The Iranian, like the rest of us, wanted a real debate, one in which Bollinger would practice what he had preached the previous year in a campus-wide e-mail to students.

“In a society committed to free speech,” it had said, “there will inevitably be times when speakers use words that anger, provoke, and even cause pain. Then, more than ever, we are called on to maintain our courage to confront bad words with better words.”

Sadly, what Bollinger had in his arsenal were not better words but Bush’s words.

Ref: the Nation

Also read iranian-university-chancellors-ask-bollinger-10-questions

The Bollinger/Ahmadinejad farce

Imagine the scene: As angry protesters march outside, a nation’s unpopular president prepares to address students and faculty at a prestigious university. Introducing the president, the head of the university is bluntly critical of his guest speaker: “You, quite simply, [are] ridiculous. You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated. . . . I doubt you will have the intellectual courage to answer [our] questions . . . I do expect you to exhibit the fanatical mind-set that characterizes so much of what you say and do. . . . Your preposterous and belligerent statements . . . led to your party’s defeat in the [last] elections.”

Unfazed, the president rises to begin his speech. His sometimes bizarre remarks generate hoots of derision. But he plows on civilly, though he ducks and weaves when faced with critical questions from the audience.

When the clock runs out, many are dissatisfied with his answers. But everyone applauds the courageous head of the university, who wasn’t afraid to speak truth to power, and everyone praises the student protesters, who exemplified the democratic values of dissent and free expression.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if something like that could happen in our country?

No, no, I mean really happen in our country. Tuesday’s farce in New York at Columbia University, starring Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the Unpopular Presidential Guest and Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger as The Man Who Spoke Truth to Power, doesn’t count because it was just that: a farce.

Ahmadinejad was playing to global public opinion, and though he lost some PR points for incoherence and general bizarreness of message (“In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals”), he gained some for coming off as a bit more mature than his prissy, infantile host. (“In Iran, when you invite a guest, you respect them,” Ahmadinejad observed dryly.)

Bollinger, meanwhile, was playing to a different audience. After taking a beating for giving Ahmadinejad a forum, he was eager to show the media, alumni, concerned Jewish organizations and a raft of bellicose neoconservative pundits that he was no terrorist-loving appeaser of Holocaust deniers.

In a narrow sense, both Ahmadinejad and Bollinger achieved their goals. Ahmadinejad showed that he could be dignified in the face of crass American bullies, which will play well abroad — and may even buttress his dwindling prestige in Iran. And Bollinger showed that he can be a crass American bully, which, in our current political climate, is what passes for “courage.”

Bollinger’s tactics went down well with the New York media, anyway: The New York Sun rhapsodized about a “Teaching Moment,” while the New York Times expressed the pious hope that “what Americans and Iranians will remember is that image of professors and students, in a true democratic forum.” And Bollinger seemed quite pleased with his own performance. The Bollinger-Ahmadinejad Show was “free speech at its best,” Bollinger modestly explained to reporters.

Sorry, no. “Free speech at its best” is when someone really does speak truth to power, and power stops blathering long enough to engage with inconvenient ideas. If an Iranian professor, inside Iran, had said what Bollinger said to Ahmadinejad, that would have been brave.

Or — stay with me here — if Bollinger had invited President Bush to Columbia and made those same unvarnished remarks to him, and Bush had toughed it out and struggled to answer half a dozen unfiltered, critical questions from an audience not made up of his handpicked supporters . . . . Well, that too would have been free speech at its best.

Unfortunately, that’s not the kind of thing you’re likely to see in America.

It’s odd, because Bush — like Ahmadinejad — makes plenty of statements that, to paraphrase the eloquent Mr. Bollinger, could be characterized as ridiculous, provocative, uneducated and fanatical. (Take Bush’s repeated suggestion of a link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks, for instance.) And as in the case of Ahmadinejad, some of Bush’s preposterous and belligerent statements contributed to the GOP’s defeat in the last elections.

But so what? Here in the land of free speech, elites — including those at universities — too often collude to keep our own president in his safe little bubble. (Those who forget to pretend that the emperor is fully dressed, such as Stephen Colbert at the 2006 White House Correspondents Assn. dinner or Jimmy Carter at Coretta Scott King’s funeral, are instantly chastised for being “inappropriate.”)

This week, a global audience saw Iran’s “petty and cruel dictator,” as Bollinger called him, courteously parrying questions from hostile students — something viewers won’t see our democratically elected president doing.

So fine, let’s congratulate ourselves for showing Iran just how many freedoms we have in America. But when we get done congratulating ourselves on our fancy freedoms, let’s figure out why we can’t be bothered to put them to use.

Ref:LA Times

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Comments Reg. Bollinger’s Treatment of Ahmadinejad

Embarassed American:
An open letter to Mr. Lee Bollinger:

Thank you, Mr. Bollinger. Thank you for so eloquently showing the Iranian people and government exactly what it means to be an American. Thank you for showing them that Americans are intolerant, spiteful, vitriol-spewing hate mongers. Thank you for showing them that Americans cannot be gracious hosts, even as we invite them to speak at our universities. I would like to know what you expected to gain by your tirade. Did it work? Do you feel better now?
I do agree with one thing that you said – I only wish you could have done a better job representing America.

(Ref: Post Global)

Columbia President Bollinger Introduces Ahmadinejad

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2:07 p.m. | Mr. Ahmadinejad began his speech by reciting verses from the Koran in Arabic. Addressing Dean Coatsworth and the audience, he said he was grateful to God for the opportunity to speak in an academic environment.

Mr. Ahmadinejad began: “At the outset, I want to complain a bit about the person who read this political statement against me. In Iran, tradition requires that when we invite a person to be a speaker, we actually respect our students and the professors by allowing them to make their own judgment and we don’t think it’s necessary before the speech is even given to come in with a series of claims…”

Ahmadinejad Responds to ‘Unfriendly Treatment’

Ref: NY Times

September 26th,
3:37 pm
Today, Mr. Bollinger vigorously strove to keep his name in the media spotlight, despite his lack of importance.
He could have just pointed out that as the president of a university, he has no understanding of tact or the need for diplomacy when dealing with foreign heads of state.
Also, apropos of nothing much, I think he looks strikingly like a leprechaun.
— Posted by Dan Stackhouse
September 26th,
3:44 pm
The event was handled extremely well. As the leader of an important nation, Ahmadinejad should be given the chance to voice his views; and students and faculty — as well as those following the story — should be given the chance to decide that he’s a liar and a nut.
— Posted by Andrew
September 26th,
3:48 pm
As a native Brooklynite and former Columbia student, I’m more than used to abrasive New York types–I’m one myself. But at a serious international dialogue you play by different rules. Bollinger should have simply said, “Sir, there have been reports of X,Y, and Z happening in Iran. Are they true? What do you say to your critics?” Intead, he waded in with a baseball bat: crude, rude, and
an embarrassment all around. It’s easy to win a debate with Ahmadinejad: just
let him babble away. But don’t begin
with a carpet-bombing attack.
— Posted by Peter Heinegg
September 26th,
3:49 pm
“Whether I would’ve invited him on my own in light of this, I’m just not addressing.”
What did Bollinger expect? Columbia (okay Pres., not you specifically, geez) invited a terrorist funding, holocaust revising, advocate for genocide in Israel (ironic, don’t you think), anti-gay, anti-woman, President of a country funding weapons to people killing Americans in Iraq.
Did Bollinger think Columbia was inviting a flower-arranger?
— Posted by Michael
September 26th,
3:52 pm
It’s one thing to offer a thoughtful critique of this leader’s policy, and another to revert to petty name calling as Mr. Bollinger has done. His remarks were not only completely disrespectful; they were immature. Many people will regard them as arrogant. Ahmadinejad most certainly scored points in the world arena; it’s no wonder such an enormous chasm exists between veiws shared by Americans and veiws shared by the rest of the world.
— Posted by Mithu Molla
September 26th,
3:59 pm
I despise Mr. Ahmadinejad’s positions such as his shameless denial of the Holocaust and his shameless lies trying to spin away the existence of gays, or defending the treatment of women and academics as fair, or trying to claim that their nuke program is peaceful. However, I feel that Mr. Bollinger is nothing but a pompous lawyer who likes to hear his own voice. So what, if Mr. Bollinger gave him a headmaster-like dressing down, deservedly so? If they had to give him a forum, they should have limited his speech to five or ten minutes, and asked him to take unscreened questions from the faculty and students of Columbia on the floor for the rest of that session. Also, if we Americans are so eager to treat foreign leaders with such critical scrutiny, how about turning inwards and asking questions of our own leaders who talked about WMD’s and led us to war in Iraq?
— Posted by Jack
September 26th,
4:02 pm
This is getting a little ridonculous. Last week people, including the mayor, the police chief, and folks on this site were throwing a hissy fit that he was even coming to the states, saying how it was an affront to God and decency and the victims of 9-11.
The kind of public reaction that Columbia’s invitation fetched virtually necessitated that Bollinger come down as hard as humanly possible on Ahmadinejad in order to make it clear that he wasn’t “providing a platform for hatespeech” or something. Now we’re throwing the opposite tantrum, saying we shouldn’t have disrespected him so much? Where’s the beef? Where’s the backbone?
— Posted by Russell
September 26th,
4:09 pm
Bollinger’s questions were not concisely phrased enough to pin Ahmadinejad down. Instead of “What about the rights of gays and women?” Bollinger should have asked “Is it the policy of your government to execute homosexuals?” Instead of “Is there freedom of religion?”, a better question is “Is practice of the Bahai religion against the law in Iran?”
Asking such simple, clear, pointed questions with clear yes/no answers would have been more effective than the professional wrestling-style call-out that preceded Ahmadinejad’s speech.
— Posted by Lars
September 26th,
4:09 pm
Why was the name of Columbia University blacked
out on the Lecturn Mr. Bollinger?
Please explain.
Thank you.
— Posted by Paul D.
September 26th,
4:18 pm
Bollinger aside, as a friend put it:
“It makes you think how idiots are ruling these two nation.
One believes Iraq was behind 9/11
the other thinks the holocaust never happened
one thinks Nelson Mandela is dead
the othr thinks homosexuals do not exist in his country….
now…is it the leaders who are the idiots and delusional…or the people who elected them into office?”
— Posted by c eisenhart
September 26th,
4:19 pm
Mr. Bollinger’s allegation that this was freedom of speech at its best is nonsense; the world is well aware of Ahmadinejad’s demagogic views. Donating a platform to the Iranian president’s–by necessity, toned down–propaganda merely helps to legitimize him.
— Posted by Allison
September 26th,
4:19 pm
Bollinger seriously embarrassed himself, Columbia and the nation. What a fool. If you would have told me that he could have gotten up before Mr. Ahmadinejad and made a speech that made him look like the idiot I wouldn’t have believed you, but alas, he did
— Posted by mike
September 26th,
4:22 pm
Mr. Ahmadinejad has much to thank Bollinger for, he couldn’t have asked for a better propaganda speech to show around the world. Thanks for making us look like hypocrites Bollinger.
Yes we have freedom of speech here, but only after we lob 20 or 30 ad hominem attacks at you…
— Posted by mark
September 26th,
4:24 pm
Bollinger was disrespectful to–wait for it–Ahmedinijad? Hmm. During the McCarthy period, the playwright Lillian Hellman was suspected of Communist sympathies because she had been an early opponent of Hitler and Mussolini, as were many Communists. In contrast, most Western liberals were very late to the game (they continually wanted to “listen to” and “engage” Hitler). Surprised by this logic, Hellman asked if it were really possible to have opposed fascism too soon. Bollinger could say the same thing about this bozo. When would it be OK for him to light into Ahmedinijad? After Iran takes out Tel-Aviv? Bollinger owed Ahmedinijad NOTHING but the opportunity to respond. Ahmedinijad refused to do so. Res ipsa loquitor.
— Posted by Richmond
September 26th,
4:28 pm
To underscore the validity of the event, Columbia should have extended an invitation to Borat to debate Ahmadinejad. Then, it might have been worthwhile to see.
— Posted by Nancy
September 26th,
4:28 pm
Bollinger’s comments were a disgrace to American education. He tried to have it both ways and ended up losing any credibility he could have possibly earned by making sharp, legitimate points while not reverting to cheap & petty schoolyard name-calling. He made the freak Iranian president look like a voice of reason in comparison despite his loony statements…
— Posted by Greg
September 26th,
4:28 pm
This is like asking a rapist to tell his side of the story. Free speech is not about giving criminal free publicity.
— Posted by A. Ross
September 26th,
4:28 pm
What’s telling here is that now even Iranians who despised Ahmadinejad, and there are many, sympathize with the petty dictator and his stature and status has been undeservedly raised. The ultimate challenge for America now is to find leadership (academic and gov’t) with the intellect, insight and maturity to actually lead. We don’t really need enemies when we have leaders like Bush and Bollinger shooting their mouths, and our own feet, off.
— Posted by Mangey1
September 26th,
4:31 pm
What is the problem? We do have free speach don’t we? As long as people can talk and share ideas we will have freedom. Lord keep those away from me that would limit what I hear and what I can say!
— Posted by Douglas Pierson
September 26th,
4:32 pm
Why didn’t Mr “I did not extend the invitation to him” Bollinger step aside and let a more civil leader of the group that did extend the invitation do the introduction?
— Posted by Richard
September 26th,
4:34 pm
This was Democracy at it’s best. The President of Iran having his public forum & the President of Columbia University giving his opinion of the Iranian President.
I personally do not agree with anything that Mr. Ahmadinejad says but letting him speak was the right thing to do.
— Posted by Norman Solow
September 26th,
4:35 pm
Given the fact that President Ahmadinejad started the ramp-up of threats and rhetoric after being elected President and, if nothing else, has even escalated his belligerence of late, I don’t fault Mr. Bollinger at all!
We’ve seen President Ahmadinejad dodge and refuse to answer direct questions from various interviewers. This is typical of a tyrant and a Stalinesque regime, where the mere asking might get you hung.
Did you notice in his UN speech, his half-dozen points or so, the 1st dealt with women? I counted at least 5 times that he used the word “chastity” in describing the ideal woman. No where did I hear that word used in describing men.
Don’t chunk you chadors in Iran, girls!
— Posted by Sid L
September 26th,
4:36 pm
Once upon a time, the Iranian leadership could have soothed themselves with the concept that their policies clashed with the interests of the US government but not with the values of the American people. As of now, the Iranian leadership should be on notice that the disagreement is fundamental and runs much deeper than the policies of an unpopular American President.
While I regret any perceived rudeness from Lee Bollinger, I don’t think that there is a pleasant way to articulate such profound disagreements – the kind of disgreements that are based on the values that in fact justify the very existence of this great University on a day to day basis.
Memo to Sheldon Silver: as the top legislator in the State Assembly, you are a useless piece of junk and parasite who doesn’t understand squat about academic freedom. Why don’t you make yourself useful and drop dead, and stay dead?
— Posted by blacklight
September 26th,
4:39 pm
Bollinger is constantly trying to find windows for escape, first when he comes under intense cticism to invite the president, he becomes the moral policeman of the world in an extremely crude and inappropriate manner and when as expected that backfires he decides to justify himself ,does’nt he realize the enormous damage he has done to the concept of diplomacy and fair play in the hearts and minds of the Iranians who now see the Americans as people of poor taste and sensibilities.
— Posted by Sanjay Verma
September 26th,
4:39 pm
The way Bollinger has treated President Ahmadinejad (the head of a state) just goes to show how inhospitable & unbecoming some people can be. It comes as no surprise considering that Ahmadinejad is a perpetual thorn in the eyes of zionists and those harping the Holocaust trumpet .But what is suprising is that all that happens in the name of being Saviours of democracy & peace .What an ironical illusion ? Shame on you folks .
— Posted by Dr. Abid
September 26th,
4:40 pm
A year from now, we’ll know whether Bollinger’s calculated move payed dividends by comparing alumni contributions with the past year’s. Lee knows the odds.
— Posted by Camilo
September 26th,
4:40 pm
Bollinger was like a guest at a black-tie affair showing up in cut-offs and t-shirt. An utterly disgraceful performance.
— Posted by here and now
September 26th,
4:40 pm
Bollinger, the bully, has confirmed the image of the ugly American in the non-Western world. Furthermore, he has exhibited his utter lack of knowledge of what an academic dialogue is.
— Posted by Brijen Gupta
September 26th,
4:41 pm
The only Hitler that I see attacking multiple countries is Bush. He, his brother Marvin & others caused 911 to get into Iraq to steal their oil. Why else is exxon, BP, Shell, Conoco Oil in Iraq? If a single explosion could bring a building straight down (like on 911), why don’t demo companies use that technique? It is because it is not possible to bring a building straight down with a single explosion. Bush lies, kills, and steals.. all fruits of antichrist. Don’t be deceived.
— Posted by crimson
September 26th,
4:41 pm
Peter Heinegg, you expressed it perfectly!
— Posted by Barbara
September 26th,
4:42 pm
I still can’t understand why anyone thinks Amedinejad
should be allowed to exercise OUR right to freedom of speech. I wouldn’t have let him into the United States. This guy is a terrorist!!!
— Posted by Rod
September 26th,
4:43 pm
It is pretty obvious that Bollinger has political ambitions, and these ambitions framed his unprofessional behavior.
Bollinger is not the type of man who needs to be at the helm of any institution of higher learning in America much less Columbia University.
— Posted by Chuck P
September 26th,
4:44 pm
I can’t wait until President Bush goes to the Middle East and gets ambushed by academics and journalists who grill him on the invasion of a sovereign nation in flagrant violation of international law.
If putting world leaders on the hot seat is the new deference to authority, I say let’s start with Mr Bush.
— Posted by David
September 26th,
4:45 pm
I would have expected more from the president of such a highly regarded institution, but Mr. Bollinger’s statements and accusations against Mr. Ahmadinejad were childish and worded poorly as well as inaccurate. Any 5th grader using Google would have seen the problem with Bollingers statements. It’s too bad, they let a perfect chance of real debate and discussion with a world leader in the spot light, but instead they resorted to parroting the Bush and mainstream media propaganda. I would expect as much from the Bush administration and the controlled media, but I did expect more from a University. Sigh. Guess its time to lower my expectations of these academic institutions now as well. Have we sunk so low in this country, that the representatives of our institutions of higher learning do sound any more educated than that the current Whitehouse administration?
— Posted by doug anderson
September 26th,
4:50 pm
Bollinger should resign for two reasons. First, he insulted a head of state. I don’t give lectures on free speech but I do not think free speech justifies insults such as ‘petty dictator’ or ‘ridiculous’. After Abu Ghraib, it is very disturbing to see an Arab leader treated with disrespect by an American leader and lawyer. Second, Bollinger made a wrong statement about the Holocaust that undermines the pro-Israel efforts. Bollinger said: “The truth is that the Holocaust is the most documented event in human history.” Well, if this is true my dog is the smartest dog that ever existed on Earth. Indeed, there have been so many events in human history that only God would know which one is the most documented. For instance, World War II is an event more documented than the Holocaust, because it includes the Holocaust. Amazingly Bollinger started his statement about the “most documented event” with “The truth is”. When an academic uses this expression, it indicates the highest degree of certainty. Alas, the truth is that by using a wrong argument to fight the views of Ahmadinejad, he just gave credit to all the Holocaust deniers and enemies of Israel. It is deeply disturbing to see the President of Columbia not able to distinguish the right from the wrong and insulting the Arab world. If only the Times could help him resign.
— Posted by Bernardo
September 26th,
4:51 pm
it is obvious that Mr Bollinger over-reacted to the histeria in the american media in a defensive vvay. it is amazing someone of his caliber failed to be articulate ,diplomatic and yet objective . it is easy to be rude , far difficulte to be polite and objective.
— Posted by tavvhid hassanien
September 26th,
4:53 pm
Whether he is guilty of tyranny or not, this was not the proper arena for Ahmadinejad to be allowed to express his political views, considering the controversy surrounding him.
Would Bush be allowed that sort of opportunity in Iran? I think not.
I agree with those that say the UN assembly (or a courtroom) would be more appropriate.
— Posted by W. Reese
September 26th,
4:53 pm
I have a suggestion for Dr. Bollinger: how about inviting George Bush to give a talk at Columbia and have him be introduced by someone whose views are as polar as yours are to the President of Iran? Then have Bush answer questions from the audience without the usual screening that the White House does for his canned events. Bush has as much blood on his hands, if not more, than Ahmadinejad and he takes no responsibility for it.
Personally I think Bollinger came out looking like a fool while Ahmadinejad, well, his statesmanship was best when he was responding to Bollinger’s attitude but suffered from his remarks.
— Posted by Tom
September 26th,
4:54 pm
Eerily enough, the photo of Bollinger that the City Room added to this thread was exactly the headshot I was thinking of, where he looks the most like a leprechaun. Thanks for the weird synchronicity, guys.
— Posted by Dan Stackhouse
September 26th,
4:55 pm
Mr. Bollinger looked more like a guy with a personal agenda. He must be up for reelection. No matter how much one dislikes the other, the norms are respect are not put aside. What is the difference between Venezuelan President Chavez who personally attacked Bush in United Nations last year and Mr. Bollinger…the president of so called ivy league university?
— Posted by John D.
September 26th,
4:55 pm
Bollinger acted like a typical redneck, uncivilized and uneducated.
Ironically, by reporting to such boorish insults he made Ahmadinejad more respectable than he deserved!
I doubt GWB would have been insulted this way in any other country, and God knows he deserves that!
— Posted by Teutonic-1
September 26th,
4:59 pm
Personal attacks have no place in such a forrum. What was the point of inviting Ahmadinejad if you pre-emt him and essentially say that there is no point of listening to him because he is ignorand and liar. I think that Bollinger showed his ignorance and he is an embarrassment to Columbia.
— Posted by Mike S
September 26th,
5:00 pm
Give me a break! Before this event I used to think that it would be difficult to be a bigger idiot than Ahmedinajad; Bollinger proved that it can be done, and in a spectacular fashion.
Bollinger should be ashamed of himself. A non-elected official calling a duly-elected *head of state* a “dictator”. Have you ever run for election, Mr. Bollinger? How about inviting Bush over and asking him tough questions? Oh right! The “elected” President of the US would never answer anything. Who’s the liar now, Mr. Bollinger?
— Posted by Joe
September 26th,
5:00 pm
I found Mr. Bollinger’s introductory comments were disrespectful, stupid, lowly, uneducated and ignorant. You simply don’t treat your invited speaker with such harsh, rude words regardless of your opinions about him. Mr. Bollinger is wrong calling the president of Iran a dictator. He was democratically elected by the people of Iran.
— Posted by Mike
September 26th,
5:01 pm
Americans are often perceived as being rude and arrogant. Instead of rising into the role of an ambassador – Mr. Bollinger chose to shrink into the stereotype.
There is a huge difference between critical dialogue and childish name calling… one explores issues and the other only tarnishes reputations. In his attempt to mettle out ‘tough’ talk – Mr. Bollinger embarrassed not only himself – he embarrased me as an American.
— Posted by Brent from St. Louis
September 26th,
5:01 pm
It’s one thing to act like a total fool and insult a nation’s president like Bollinger has done, its even more insulting to try to justify it later instead of admitting that its was inappropriate to invite a guest speaker and then insult him in such a manner.
Mr. Bollinger, we don’t need lessons in free speach, but you need lessons in good manners.
— Posted by Mikial
September 26th,
5:01 pm
Whether or not Bollinger should have made his remarks — and by the way, I agreed with what he said — is not the issue. Why he made those remarks is the issue, and I don’t think that he made them because he wanted to confront the President of Iran.
I suspect, rather, that Bollinger was reacting to public pressure — and, in particular, pressure from alumni contributers — who believed that SIA should not have invited Ahmadinejad to speak. Bollinger tried to deflect such criticism (”I’ll never give you another dollar, Bollinger”) by vigorously attacking Ahmadinejad. His introduction was made, not for Ahmadinejad’s benefit, but rather for that of the University’s critics. He needed to repudiate the invitation, but without retracting it.
Such is not “free speech,” but rather “forced speech.” I don’t care who insulted whom and, given who Ahmadinejad is and what he’s done, a mere lack of courtesy on the part of a University President could easily be excused. What would be inexcusable, however, would be for the President of Columbia to cave in to pressure tactics.
I’m a three-time Columbia alum — M.A., Ph.D. and J.D.
— Posted by TCMRNY
September 26th,
5:02 pm
We can wheedle about whether Bollinger was putting on a show or displayed the appropriate tack but objectively Ahmadinejad is a scumbag. His stance on rights for women, homosexuals, non-shiites in general and jews specifically is horrible. The reaction that this is somewhow unfair to the Iranian President leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Especially in light of how he uses demagoguery to advance his policies on the ignorant and poor. I’m not sure tact was deserved or appropriate when he was introduced. Should he be allowed to effectively spew his nonsense unchecked b/c he has the podium? But surely it was at least a bit tactless.
— Posted by MF
September 26th,
5:03 pm
Bollinger was suffering from a disease of wanting to prove his loyalty after the shellacking he received by inviting the President of Iran.
Second, the President has been democratically elected therefore the term “dictator” is factually incorrect and therefore Bollinger was the “learned ignoramus”.
Thirdly being the host, Bollinger needed to display finesse & etiquette – something which he publicly displayed he is incapable of. What Bollinger has reinforced is that the US are unwanted guests in Iraq & are bad hosts are well.
Commanding moral leadership has to be earned not demanded ingraciously. Bollinger the academic, needs to realise that he is a mere paper tiger and should be confined to university campuses – any pretensions of trying to occupy any other stage is unwarranted.
— Posted by PKMangalore
September 26th,
5:04 pm
In the USA a common citizen is allowed to ask the tough questions to a head of state in a public forum if he or she wants to, end of story. If you don’t like that, go (back) to Iran where I’m sure it’s illegal.
— Posted by jeema
September 26th,
5:04 pm
In the eyes of onlookers from around the globe, Bollinger and the media frenzy that he succumbed to managed to accomplish the incredible feat of making Ahmadinejad look very reasonable and the victim of irrational anger and closed-minded hate. Shocking.
— Posted by T F
September 26th,
5:05 pm
Calling Ahmadinejad a “dictator” is astonishingly uneducated. He’s essentially an elected figurehead, and ultimate power lies in the hands of the Supreme Ruler, Ayatollah Khamenei. I wonder what sort of reception the Chinese premier could expect on his visit to Columbia.
— Posted by Mo
September 26th,
5:08 pm
As far as I am concerned, if Columbia want to invite him, that’s fine, but why anybody would want to see him is beyond me.
Ignore him like TV ignores streakers. Maybe if people won’t pay attention, he’ll just fade away.
— Posted by Dave
September 26th,
5:09 pm
I don’t agree whit Iran and is President politics but I have appreciate is courage to go to a public debate in a hostile place to defend is ideas – who many “world” Politian’s (George W Bush, Gordon Brown, Ehud Olmert, etc) have the same courage, today, to go on a public and clear debate like this?
About Mrs Bollinger presentation I think, independently about our opinion about the guest, was IS guest and I think this was a kind of “well, Mrs Mr. Ahmadinejad is our guest but I have told him a few true words in is face…” – its not a polite attitude for an Academic from on of the oldest Unite Sates of North America University’s…
— Posted by Alexius
September 26th,
5:11 pm
Based on what Mr Bollinger said at the press conference, it seems clear that the Iranian president and/or his entourage knew exactly what was coming (e.g., sharply worded preface with questions posed). The Iranian president came anyway. What was supposed to happen happened and the Iranian president was apparently still “insulted.” Sure it was a little unorthodox, but no one on that stage should have found it unexpected.
— Posted by M
September 26th,
5:11 pm
I would like to see Mr. Bollinger being invited to Iran and subject to the same verbal attack! I’m sure he will be shitting platinum-plated bricks.
And we wonder why the middle-east hates us Americans? because we are such loud and foul mouthed illeterate petty people. No wonder our jobs are getting outsourced – this is the sad education system (and teachers) that we’re exposed to.
We deserve it….sadly.
— Posted by Black Mamba
September 26th,
5:12 pm
“Petty dictator”??? The president of Iran has little to NO POWER! The power is in the hands of the supreme ruler, who is a cleric and NOT Ahmadinejad. Calling him a dictator made Columbia’s president look like a moron, and his faculty and students applauded when Ahmed called out Bollinger.
— Posted by George Dubyou
September 26th,
5:13 pm
Bollinger, grow up. Your ridiculous treatment of a guest was no doubt telecast globally and certainly did not help the American image. This is not what we need right now. Some voice of reason would have been better from a supposed academic like you.
— Posted by Sam
September 26th,
5:13 pm
Our civility is judged by the way we treat people we have invited.
We want our children learn more than how to add 1+1 and now I am not sure what our children will learn at Columbia University beyond that.
I feel sad that our country now truly needs new, educated and cultured leadership at many level.
— Posted by Anonymous
September 26th,
5:14 pm
I just want the audience to know that Ahmadinejad has a Ph.D degree in engineering from the best school in Iran. Bollinger should not portrayed him as an ignorant person.
— Posted by mohamed
September 26th,
5:15 pm
Mr. Bollinger clearly displayed his lack of elementary courtesy that is required in the modern world. In any society, to dress down a guest in public is totally irresponsible, more so if the guest is a head of state. He should have fought tooth and nail to reject the invitation in the first place. He should consider his immediate resignation as head of a prestigious institution that deserves a better leadership.
— Posted by michael a.
September 26th,
5:18 pm
It is inappropriate to question world leaders no matter what the forum. We should sit silently, and let them – like gods – give us our marching orders.
Instead of facing ideas that we disagree with, we should hide from them or hide them from us. It can only weaken the purity of our will if dare to even hear the arguments of one who thinks differently from us.
When someone tells me something I don’t believe, I do not engage them I put my fingers in my ears and say “la-la-la-la-la-la.”
When a world leader speaks, I sit in rapt attention silently and I dare not question their words. For they are a world leader and I am but a sheep.
— Posted by Will
September 26th,
5:20 pm
Give a megalomaniac and liar the podium and he will lie to make his opponents look bad.
He will take all the truth about wrongdoings and put a positive spin on them. As it in the West so is it in the East.
What were we thinking when we gave the idiot a forum to speak? That we would embarrass and shame him into changing his policies, that is so naive!
The policies of Iran are the policies of the clerics, the policies of Shariah, the policies of militant Islam, these policies and attitudes that they have to maintain because as the potentates of Shiitism they cannot turn back on the murder and blood shed they have promoted the world over through Hamas and all the evil they promote.
To understand the Iranians you need to understand the world vision of radical islamists. The world caliphate of Islam.
Insulting the Head of State of a country bent on the destruction of Western civilization is like
ranting at a speeding train.
— Posted by Chuck Frank
September 26th,
5:23 pm
Should the analysis or discussion of Monday’s event be focused on the rhetoric that flowed from the President of Columbia or the tell-tell words we heard from the President of Iran.
Right now, all across the nation of Iran, there are gay people who literally fear for their lives.
— Posted by Cody Lyon
September 26th,
5:24 pm
Ah Neville Chamberlain where ever you are you’ll be happy to know that nothing has changed here in 2007. Hitler is not in Europe now but in the Middle East. He has a ton of supporters in the US and probably has similar spy networks also. Though he hasn’t moved to state territorial demands he is rewriting history. He is exterminating homosexuals on religious grounds as opposed to Jews on ethnic grounds. Unlike your appeasement policy a local university president castigated him at a local event in the US. Like you though none of the leaders of the have denounced him has a crackpot. I expect a war shortly. I am to old to go this time.
“What darkness lurks in the minds of men”
— Posted by Peace in Our Time
September 26th,
5:25 pm
Perhaps Bollinger should direct his slighted moral authority back at his own country for a while. There’re plenty of things on home turf he can express his self righteous outrage about – I think a bit of humility and a reality-based understanding of the problems would be much more constructive than catapulting boulders around a glass house. Oh, but hang on, this is politics, it’s more about ego and power than solving the worlds ills. Maybe I’ll just put on some popcorn and watch the US dig its own grave, instead. Here’s a spoiler…. *you reap what you sew*
— Posted by michael
September 26th,
5:27 pm
Talking to ones enemies and determining what to do to engage them in the pursuit of global stability is an extremely civilised way of doing business. Intemperate, insulting childlike outbursts by those who should know better only reinforces the widely held international stereotype of the crass, stupid American. Grow up.
— Posted by russell vance
September 26th,
5:28 pm
Bollinger’s show proved his level of ignorance. There are thousands of reports indicating that Ahmadinejad NEVER said Israel should be wiped off the map. Taking the manipulation of the media as facts for someone at the capacity of Bollinger measures the level of intelligence for educated people in America. If this is educated, what is average American? Makes me laugh….
— Posted by Martin S.
September 26th,
5:32 pm
as governor richadson said iraq and plestine are only symptoms . power pride and arrogance is the disease.
— Posted by m.sabir
September 26th,
5:34 pm
Regardless of what the media trumpets as the triumph of good over evil, over 75% of Americans feel very pained by the exchange. Because at least 75% of Americans are good decent people and don’t feel it is right to invite someone to your house and then sucker punch him. Bollinger should have copied the petty tactics of Bush and banned him from Columbia. That would have sat better.
— Posted by Cash Prakash
September 26th,
5:35 pm
There is no credibility left with the American government, media and now university. The world is tired with the “Hitler” thing and the loud and lousy propoganda machine as soon as Uncle Sam needs a scapecoat to hide their failuress shortcomings and stupidity! It’s a shame to see this country’s public insitutions -the media first-ridicule themselves in the face of the peoples of the world. M. Bollinger pandered to “public opinion” as does the NYT. Generally the West has become laughable in their arrogance and lecturing of the rest of the world. Hitler was not a product oi Islam or Persian civilization. He was a European, Caucasian, western educated criminal. So we should stop branding Ahamadinejad, Mugabe or the late Saddam Hussein as “Hitlers”. If there is a Hiteler in today’s world he lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. and his blietkrieg just destroyed Iraq. He is “liberating” people by bombing them “to the stone Age”! With the support of his corporate media and submissive people!
— Posted by Fed-up-with-propaganda
September 26th,
5:35 pm
Originally, Bollinger’s stance was that university audiences have the right to listen to controversial speakers in the name of freedom of speech. A laudable objective even if, in the end, nothing new was learned about the Iranian president’s views of the world.
However, he completely undercut that stance by lacing into the Iranian, insulting him and making the world at large aware of what HIS, Bollinger’s, political views were. All of this before the invited speaker had a chance to utter a single word. Not only was this in total violation of academic protocol but it was lacking in common civility. If Bollinger thought he was giving the students at Columbia a model to follow, it was a terrible model and unworthy of the leader of one of this country’s great universities.
He and his dean were totally in control of the event and therefore are accountable for the lamentable results. It is sad that he persists in using the media at this disposal to praise his own performance. This event was not supposed to be about Bollinger, but about the students and their interaction with the President of Iran. If any of his subordinates at Columbia have any influence over him, they should advise him that Columbia can do without any more such theatrics.
As Maureen Dowd had the guts and the insight to write in her New York Times column today: “The president’s irrelevant U.N. speech was a bad combo with the shoolyard name-calling of Lee Bollinger. Even some in the anti-Ahmadinejad audience gasped a bit as Columbia’s president give the meanest introduction in the history of introductions–one that only managed to elevate the creep sitting on stage with his thugs. Once you’ve made the decision to invite a tyrannical leader, you can’t undo it by belittling him in public. Universities are supposed to be places where you can debate and hear dissenting voices; it would haven far better just to hand the make to the students and let it rip.”
— Posted by Rich
September 26th,
5:36 pm
President Bollinger’s dedication to “free speech” clearly varies from circumstance to circumstance. When the student Young Republicans at Columbia invited the representative of the “Minute Men” to address them on campus, he was met by an unruly student mob who physically drove him from the hall and terminated the event. No apologies from President Bollinger, no invitation to return and present the views of the Minute Men in a secure setting, rather at least by strong implication,
it appears that freedom of speech as interpreted at Columbia is a some time thing depending upon who the speaker is. This standard deserves the label of hypocrisy.
— Posted by Peter Cella
September 26th,
5:40 pm
Bollinger’s ignorance amazes me. University of Columbia Student Union should run a mock election in the university and see how many votes Bollinger gets from the students. I think Bollinger is a dictator in a true sense of the word.
— Posted by John D.
September 26th,
5:40 pm
I support free speech. However, as Ahmadinejad is not a citizen (or even a non-citizen), he is not entitled to free speech. Nobody is entitled to a venue. I have no idea what this euphimistic “academic freedom” is. I know it’s not legal or entitled to anyone. I’d like to see a definition of it.
I think the real question that Columbia did not ask itself was “What value was this debate going to offer?” I believe that if it asked this question, it would not have proceeded with the debate. Columbia is one of the world’s most respected universities. By allowing Ahmadinejad it gave the leader a legitimacy. That legitimacy might not seem important to the West, but to the rest of the world, that says a lot. When the Middle East sees Ahmadinejad being treated badly and citing the Koran at a respected American institution, believe me he will be even more respected.
The invitation also affects foreign diplomacy. When we are engaged in sanctions with Iran, it is contrary to allow the leader to speak at a private venue. What is appropriate is allowing Ahmadinejad to speak at the U.N. regarding those sanctions.
Also, free speech does not mean one must be discourteous.
— Posted by Steve
September 26th,
5:45 pm
Whether we like it or not, Mr. Ahmadinejad is the head of government in Iran. He traveled to the US to attend the opening of the UN. If Columbia thought it wanted to hear what he had to say, then let him speak.
It was completely inappropriate for Mr. Bollinger to interject his opinions into the discussion even before the man had his turn at the podium. If Mr. B had such strong feelings, the session could have been arranged as a debate between them. Then we could have heard both sides of a question in an orderly manner. This format was an ambush of Mr. A and not very “fair and balanced.”
Besides, as someone mentioned earlier, the middle-Eastern way is to be very polite when someone is in your “home,” whether you like the person or not. Mr.A was probably more insulted by Mr. B’s confrontation than a European would be. It is just “not done.” And, Mr B. showed his ignorance by putting his own feelings first and using the opportunity to further his own cause than consider the university’s guest.
I was embarrassed as a native New Yorker and an American by the reception given Mr. A at Columbia. We are better than that.
— Posted by Gerrie Blum
September 26th,
5:45 pm
Hitler was democratically elected. Twice. He was still a dictator.
I’m astounded by the number of posts by people who presume to tell us what “proper” American behavior is toward guests. Many of these posts don’t sound like they were written by Americans or from inside the U.S.
News to world: Left or Right, most Americans don’t care what “the world” thinks. Half the world objects to our Left wing. The other half objects to the Right wing.
Guess why our ancestors left home. They wanted to get away from you!
— Posted by Richmond
September 26th,
5:46 pm
Mr. Bollinger obviously knows his New York-Washington power constituency very well. Ahmandinejad has been declared fair game by the Bush administration and the mainstream media. Bollinger has covered his ass: he now has nothing to fear from Schumer, Liebermann, AIPAC, the neocons and the NASCAR crowd. But who cares? Ahmandinejad certainly doesn’t!
— Posted by wolfram
September 26th,
5:47 pm
Free speech is free speech. In the USA we’re all entitled to express our opinions even if they are disagreeable or insulting. While I disagree strongly with the policies of Iran and think them outright liars in many areas (pursuit of nuclear weapons, denial of the Holocaust, existence of gays in Iran, etc), it is a credit to our country and Columbia that Ahmadinejad was permitted to speak. Whether Bollinger was rude, calculating, or simply honest and forthright in his introduction, he has the right to speak as well. The beauty of our system of free speech is that each person is allowed to form their own opinion based on the unhindered statements of others.
— Posted by DM
September 26th,
5:48 pm
so Bollinger called Ahmadinejad a “petty and cruel dictator”…
now ahmadinejad was elected president in an election where 70% of the iranians voted. He has only been in power 2 years. I assume when Bollinger calls Ahmadinejad “petty and cruel”, its because ahmadinejad has:
a- attacked and occupied another country unprovoked
b- facilitated slaughter of innocent civilians in that country (700,000 dead according to some estimates)
c- used nuclear tipped misiles on that country which resultedi in significantly higher levels of cancer in that country’s population
d- threatened other countries with military invasion
e- established secret torture cells in europe
f- held innocent civilians for years, without trial
oh, wait! Wouldnt that be Bush, Mr. Bollinger?!!
It is as clear as a day that Mr. Bollinger has done a huge disservice to the american people. The gentle and accomodating american people have been made to look like uncouth, uncivilized and mobish – thanks to Mr. Bollinger caving into zionist lobby.
— Posted by nadya
September 26th,
5:55 pm
He seems to be confusing himself as the host as himself as a participant. As a host, having explicitly invited the man (which implicitly validates the importance of what he might have to say), you cannot get up and, before the man has even had a chance to speak, declare that what he is about to say does not have value!
He should have realized there would be plenty of others that would be making that point, and chosen to let the viewpoint be expressed by valid participants, not by hogging the spotlight, tainting the declared reason for the event, and destroying the already incredibly small chance that there WOULD be a civil & free discourse of ideas before it even had a chance to happen!
— Posted by MarkM
September 26th,
5:55 pm
Bollinger said what he did to save face in a feeble attempt to distance himself from what he himself had started…a runaway train. And he was bright enough to say it to a madman with nuclear weapons back home. I would be surprised if there were not repercussions.
Was this about free speech? Only if you are stupid enough to believe that. Can any of us believe that knowing fully well that Columbia refuses to invite conservative speakers because they do not “agree” with their views. ROTC is not allowed on Columbia grounds either for the same reason. One can only assume that the reason Ahmadinejad was invited, was because Columbia agrees with his views. Hey, I didn’t say this–they did by their very actions.
Americans don’t need an explanation of free speech. They need an explanation of why this school funded by state & federal dollars is allowed to remove the ROTC, and even more of a concern, allowed to give their college support to an Iranian terrorist.
— Posted by MichelleH
September 26th,
5:57 pm
Mr. Bollinger pretends to defend free speech, but doesn’t seem to have even listened to what Mr. Ahmadinejad had to say. It is rather frustrating to see the President of an institution of higher learning such as Columbia, not understand that in order to have a dialogue (supposing that this was the purpose of the invitation) one ought to speak BUT also TO LISTEN.
I thought that only the surprisingly weak questions asked matched Mr. Ahmadinejad’s generally weak performance.
Both Presidents appear to have ironically scored propaganda points to their respective audience. Not much was learnt nor accomplished.
— Posted by sylviane
September 26th,
5:58 pm
I find it amazing that anyone who perpetuates gentrification, finds the time to criticize anyone’s wrong doings. I don’t necessarily agree with Ahmadinejad and his theories. I just think Bollinger is hypocritical to make damning statements. Save Harlem
— Posted by Jarret Wade
September 26th,
6:04 pm
The President of Columbia was an idiot to verbally attack a speaker. it is another example of just how rude and arrogant the people of the US can be. Columbia University is a joke if this is the type of people they have at the realm. Let people think for themselves – Ahmadinejad did an excellent job and chaned a lot of people’s views around because ofr once the US people got to hear the “other” side of the story constantly being ignored by the US media.
The US prefers to have stupid Muslim leaders to deal with and when they come across an articulate and sly leader of the Muslim world they hate it, plain and simple.
If Bush were to speak at a university out in the Middle East he would NEVER be verbally attacked before he gives his speech even though he should be considering just how much Muslim blood his policies have spilt.
To the American readers out there – your President is hated just as much as Ahmadinejad is – he is seen as an evil dictator of an imperialist nation – don’t kid yourselves, your President is Ahmadinejad x 1,000,000.
— Posted by Jaqueline U
September 26th,
6:06 pm
Mr. Bollinger flunked International Diplomacy 101. He also fell short in the most rudimentary and universal convention of human behavior, treating one’s guest with courtesy and civility.
Furthermore, Mr. Bollinger’s behavior struck me as cowardly and his outrage as disingenuous. I had a strong feeling that he would have behaved very differently in Iran or for sure would have spared the personal attacks.
If anything, he made President Ahmadinejad look civilized.
— Posted by Yaz G
September 26th,
6:12 pm
Bollinger simply acted as a proxy of the Bush administration. Typical of the incompetents in Bush administration, Bollinger threw away a moment of dialogue that could have built a bridge between Iran and U.S. There was no good reason to insult President Ahmadinejad, especially by making inaccurate statements. Ahmadinejad was elected by the Iranian people and has little or no power compared the powerful and destructive George Bush. Bollinger could have confronted Ahmadinejad about his misstatements and still encouraged a healthy debate, especially as the head of a well known university. Bollinger is pathetic.
— Posted by Simon
September 26th,
6:12 pm
Bollinger’s outburst was uncivilized and demeaning toward a head of state.
Bollinger, as-well the way in which the papers have reported the Iranian presidents arrival to Columbia university has damaged americas already fragile credibility around the world, thats without including what GWB and his band of pirates have accomplished!
What a shambles.
— Posted by adam
September 26th,
6:15 pm
It’s Bollingers of America that make the whole world hate us. President of a prestigious university should know how to or at least learn how to treat President of a foreign country. Bollinger showed he is no less evil than Ahmadinejad.
— Posted by Shawn
September 26th,
6:21 pm
This behavior has been rather indiciative of Columbia University’s faculty and students these past few months. Despite being invited to speak, a Minuteman was bumrushed by left-wing students before he could finish his first word. Dean Bollinger invites the president of Iran to speak but proceeds to lambast him as he introduces him. Columbia has a strange habit of treating their guests. This cannot possibly be the school reknowned for training world-class diplomats–more like circus clowns.
— Posted by Gina
September 26th,
6:30 pm
I’m curious how many of the people damning Bollinger’s remarks have even read or heard what he said. (A full transcript can be found at .html)
Half of his remarks were directed towards the controversy of inviting Ahmadinejad in the first place. While you may agree or disagree with these remarks, they were articulate and well-reasoned.
The second part of Bollinger’s statement was directed towards Ahmadinejad. Maureen Dowd’s comments as describing Bollinger’s speech to “schoolyard name-calling” is cute and folksy and plays well to the readers. Unfortunately, it is also gratuitous and inaccurate.
Ahmadinejad’s view were well known before being invited to Columbia. It would have been academically dishonest if Bollinger did not challenge Ahmadinejad from the outset. In fact, merely giving Ahmadinejad another platform to spew would have been irresponsible.
Let’s consider some of the harshest statements Bollinger used in describing Ahmadinejad: “We at this university have not been shy to protest and challenge the failures of our own government to live by these values; and we won’t be shy in criticizing yours. Let’s, then, be clear at the beginning, Mr. President you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator.”
Bollinger goes on to support his statement, and gives specific examples of how Ahmadinejad has acted. Ahmadinejad chose not to respond to most of Bollinger’s points; in fact, at one point he denied that gays were mistreated in Iran by taking the obscene position that there were no gays in Iran.
With respect towards Ahmadinejad’s positions on the Holocaust, Bollinger stated, “You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated.” Again, this is certainly not a harsh criticism given Ahmadinejad’s very public conferences and statements.
Bollinger finished his remarks with, “I am only a professor, who is also a university president, and today I feel all the weight of the modern civilized world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for. I only wish I could do better.”
There is no question that Bollinger’s statements were harsh. But calling him “crude” and “childlike” or accusing him of “petty name-calling?” I think not. In a democratic society at an institution dedicated to the free exchange of beliefs, when addressing the bigoted leader of a fascist theocracy there is a moral duty to confront him in the strongest possible manner. It is evil to pander to and placate a person working towards the destruction of human rights and the continuation of fascism.
If you had the opportunity to bring Idi Amin, Stalin, or Pol Pot to your living room would you invite them to sit down, share tea, and discuss the weather? Or would you have the courage to confront them for the evil they brought to the world?
— Posted by Sam Greenfield
September 26th,
6:34 pm
What balanced debate,what educated comment, what an incredible outcome.These comments should be published on the front page of the newspaper. Invariably the International media seems to report only the sensational views of the fanatics or the U.S. Government/ Military line.
The media latch onto comments like the “U.S. military withdrawl strategy in Iraq is to exit through Iran.” The impression this conveys to a lot of the world is that most Americans are totally insular, uncaring, uneducated and gung -ho.
The American public needs its own P.R.machine.
— Posted by G Rutherford
September 26th,
6:35 pm
I am tired of the Godwinning of every thread of discussion involving Ahmedinajad (”Godwinning” means “invoking comparison to Hitler”, for the unaware).
Firstly: Hitler caused the death of over 6M Jews and another 20M soldiers and civilians all over the world. Comparing Ahmedinajad to such a monster is ludicrous in the extreme; it’s like comparing an annoying housefly to the Enola Gay. Please, people: Stop insulting those who died in the Holocaust, and those who died fighting the Germans, with this inane comparison to Hitler!! You cannot drown out the debate by invoking Hitler whenever you feel like you’re losing the debate.
Secondly, assuming for the moment that Ahmedinajad represented the Government of Iran and it’s flaws, let me ask his detractors this: compare Iran’s record with that of the Saudis. Iran’s minorities and women have **more** rights than their counterparts in Saudi Arabia! How many Jews are there in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia? Did you know that as a non-muslim, you can be executed for entering the city of Mecca? And I can assure you, gay rights are as non-existent in KSA as in any other Middle-Eastern country. Why aren’t you up in arms against the Saudi Government? Would these same foaming-at-the-mouth fascists be protesting if the Saudi Ambassador came to Columbia?
Iran, where people held candle-light vigils in memory of those killed in 9/11, is villified; Saudi Arabia, whose citizens actually conducted the 9/11 attacks gets praised and its government representatives are invited to the WTC site! Shame on those of who have politicized this tragedy for their own petty gains.
— Posted by Joe
September 26th,
6:35 pm
Ahmadinejab obviously came to the U.S./U.N. to make propaganda points. He is accustomed to being obsequiously handled by the Western media, and not directly challenged. There are many in the West and outside it that want the Western democratic system to fail, whether because they are anti-American, anti-”capitalist” “liberal”-leftists of the sort analysed by Paul Berman in Terror and Liberalism, or outright totalitarians and advocates of violence; the posts on this blog certainly show that. A lot of strange people have posted ridiculous comments. To all of those people, Bollinger gave his answer, not just to Ahmadinejab, and his humiliation of the genocidal and demonizing leader of Iran was entirely correct and deserved. At a certain point one just has to stand up for what is right. Before Bollinger’s speech at the public forum, I too thought Columbia was wrong to invite the Iranian president, but in the event it was the best way to treat that louse. Nor do I agree that Bollinger was merely covering himself due to complaints before the event. His criticisms were too full and precise to be unwilling and begrudged: he believes what he said, as well he should, because his criticisms are valid. If he wanted to cover himself he could easily have done so in a few vague comments lasting two minutes before introducing Ahmadinejab.
I would have liked him to add fuller evidence of Iran’s support for world terrorism. For example, there is the extraordinary inditement in Argentina for extradition of top Iranian leaders for responsibility for bombing a Jewish cultural centre in that country, in which huge numbers died, all innocent of any crime. There are numerous other such crimes directly attributable to Iran. Their terrorism in Iraq is only a part of the story. Support for and actual manipulation and control of Hezbollah, which is directly responsible for frequent terrorist atrocities in Lebanon and outside of it, destabilizing the entire region, could have been elaborated on. Iran is a direct threat to world peace in many ways.
Bollinger was right to make his comments. Good for him, and good for Columbia and the U.S.! As an Australian I am proud of you all. That is the way to handle a bastard who threatens world peace.
— Posted by Tim Tamiger
September 26th,
6:36 pm
It was not only rude of Mr. Bollinger, but also very low taste behavior to use those words against an invited speaker. If you think of him as “petty”, what are you when you say such words from the stage? I think it’s Mr. Bollinger who came across as petty in this matter, unfortunately.
Given this, I would love to ask some thought provoking questions to many of my fellow americans who are going on and on and on..
1. Have you got chance to read the original script of Ahmedinejad’s speech? Please google it and read it.
2. Show me where has he explicitly denied the existence of Holocaust. (He has not).
3. All he had said against USA was that US itselfs sponsors terrorism around the world. Now what’s new in that information? Our own philosophers (Chomsky e.g.) have been saying this. And it’s a well known – well accepted thing around the real world that watches more TV than CNN and reads more news paper than NYTimes/WashingtonPost/LATimes/ or such.
4.As for being anti-gay: Please see the YouTube Video “root of all evil” by Richard Dawkins. You will see much more harmful “religion” based campaign of killing people for their beliefs/behavior/choice/lifestyle such as abortion/aethism.
The part that we would love to overlook is HERE! IN USA that those people live.
Being anti-gay was the norm around the world until recent history. So what’s soooo abnormal in being anti-gay?
I agree, it’s sad. But isn’t it so common? do you think Mr. Parvez Musharraf or any other famed Muslim leader will agree that his nation has a large gay population? (remember that leaders have to also entertain the population in their own country whereever they are speaking)
5. And anti-women???? well !! most of us have an attitude towards women as nothing but a sex-object. is that pro- or anti- women?
Think many issues together before you judge a man, Mr. Bollinger. You are supposedly heading a learned institution of highest calibre in the world.
But alas! I see you have grown shorter than Mr. Ahmedinejad. You in the whole world’s eyes, represented Western Culture on the stage. And you failed miserably.
— Posted by InYourFace
September 26th,
6:39 pm
before one commits a crime i.e. war, murder etc, deep down there is a voice that disagrees with the act. It shows now that Amercians who once invaded other countries for profit, now the Columbia incident confirms that they lack deep-down critical feelings too that has origins in good. Way to go academic Americans. Once a fool always a fool.
— Posted by Middleeast
September 26th,
6:41 pm
The sickening feeling I had when the Bush administration started conflating the 9/11 attacks on the United States with Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship returned yesterday. If we attack Iran or if Iran attacks us or Israel, President Bollinger will have played a hand in it. For this to have come from some hot-headed professor would not have surprised me, but he’s president of the University for Pete’s sake! Ahmadinejad is not the only one with delusions of grandeur.
— Posted by cj
September 26th,
6:43 pm
What was the point of Columbia University to invite him if he was going to publicaly humiliate him before he even spoke. How would mr.Bollinger and others feel if Bush was invited to speak at a foreign university and was introduced the exact same way. The war in iraq was supposed to be for wmd’s, ten thousand innocent lives later and simple as that there were none. Iran has not waged war on any other country. Mind you they were attacked with chemical weapons in the 80’s by Saddam who bought them from his supporters, usa.
— Posted by rick
September 26th,
6:44 pm
I do not think Mr. Bollinger deserves to be a president. He is a shame!
He does not know simple courtecy of inviting guests. I am not sure of his Ph.D. credentials. At least speech looks like jurk.
Shame on you Mr. Bollinger. Step down.
— Posted by Ra
September 26th,
6:45 pm
I find it hard to believe that anyone with half a conscience could defend Ahmadinejad. The man supports terrorism, denies the Holocaust, and wants to wipe Irael off the map (it’s already not on any map owned by Hamas or the Palestinains.) I have no problem with the way he was treated.
— Posted by Dagw00d
September 26th,
6:48 pm
Bollinger was in hotter water than he could stand so he was vulnerable to doing anything to deflect the heat. Columbia, likely is not so disaffected by the attention it is getting, and yes, it is interesting that Columbia University’s name was not on the podiem. Obviously, there was no desire to have any pictures of Ahmadinejad at Columbia, without a doubt, for all posterity. Seats as President are pretty volatile lately.. Summer, at Harvard is not the only one among them forced to leave for not doing the “pc” thing accurately. For all we know, Bollinger was trying to save his presidency. Now, Look at Bush and the comments he makes, just as disrepectable and outright stupid at times. Ahmadinejad, he’s also trying to save his presidency. He is also trying to save the lives of Iranians who may face the wrath of the US if they do not capitulate to ending their determination to use nuclear activity for energy (as they claim) or for some other purpose, i.e., allegedly for a bomb. Everyone desiring to have nuclear ability for bombmaking purposes is being preventive and if a president, I would think that might fall under the same purview of being obligated to protect your people, just like Bush claims he is doing with all of his actions in the so-called Middle East. Truth is, these leaders, be they the university prez, the US prez, the Iranian prez, etc., are looking out for self and what they hold dear. Who’s more wrong and who is more right? We are in a world of trouble when what we’ll do first is hurl allegations and call one another names! God help us all!
— Posted by Hanan
September 26th,
6:48 pm
Mr.Bollinger exercised his right to free speech and called Mr.Ahmadinejad a petty dictator. This is not a lie. Most people seem to be affronted by a perceived lack of etiquette on the part of Mr.Bollinger. Mr.Ahmadinejad is a man who publicly stated he wanted to ‘annihilate’ israel and is a year away from nuclear weapons. Not the time to smile politely, and offer tea, its about time someone in the political world stood up and said it like it is. Bravo Mr.Bollinger
— Posted by daviid
September 26th,
7:00 pm
I personally learned absolutely nothing from the speech. It wasn’t at all difficult to predict what he would say on a wide range of issues and this held true for me. The only purpose that was served was that of propaganda. Well done Columbia, I hope you’re proud of yourselves for providing a vehicle for this grubby little dictator.
— Posted by Chris Stiegler
September 26th,
7:02 pm
Had Bollinger not used the term “petty dictator” and been more tactfully confronting in his opening remarks, he would have been more effective and less prone to questions related to his policial motives. His recent response in the press to attacks on his motives were were excellent and more akin to the sprit in which his opening remarks should have been presented. Bollinger missed an opportunity due to the style of his opening remarks to better expose Ahmadinejad as the lying spin artist that he is.
— Posted by Dan Parry
September 26th,
7:08 pm
Free speech prevailed even if Mr. Ahmadinejad is reprehensible and an affront. Unfortunately Ahmadinejad embodies a view of America that is all too prevalent worldwide. Bottom line: Ahmadinejad was there at the behest of SIPA and it is a good thing that Columbia students, many of whom will one day deal with overseas leaders and businessmen, experience the full spectrum of world views.
I did think that Bollinger was trying to have it both ways — invite Ahmadinejad and then show his contempt at the invitation. I think direct and pointed questions about Iran policies would have been more instructive.
My final thought: When Ahmadinejad said there were no homosexuals in Iran it struck me that this was the comment that would lose him the most admirers in the US, from among those who view Ahmadinejad as a force against Bush and willing to overlook his other “foibles”.
Ahmadinejad struck me as a very nimble and smart guy. He is rigidly evil, ideologically banal and knows what he is doing.
— Posted by Harry L.
September 26th,
7:08 pm
It was reminiscent of the 1960s episode when City College of New York invited Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett, the epitome of pro-segregation, anti-civil rights Southern leadership, to speak on campus. It had the same result with students and others shouting Barnett down so he could scarcely get in a word of his remarks. I believe the president of CCNY at the time was Buell Gallagher, and I believe he apologized to Barnett for the treatment. It’s the sort of event that seems parallel to this one. Check out the newspaper microfiche for an account of the event.
— Posted by John Simonds
September 26th,
7:15 pm
From the point of view of a non-American, this seems typical. You are very willing to criticise others, calling them “dictators” and targeting one man who wants to wipe Israel of the map. But when you look at America, when they already have wiped Iraq off the map, have more nuclear weapons than all other nations of the planet combined and seem to unfairly target Arab states, one wonders exactly how much hipocrisy is ignored in the fine USofA. So the man doesn’t like Israel and has previously denied the holocaust? If he didn’t bring it up, why mention it? That’s just rude, or dont you show the same accord to people of a different race?
— Posted by Josh Hicks
September 26th,
7:22 pm
I expected more from Bollinger and Columbia than a cheap aping of the cowardly behavior of Bill O’Reilly. Certainly Ahmadinejad has some seriously psychotic and obnoxious views. That doesn’t mean a scholar like Bollinger should sink to his level.
American and Israeli Jews have got to stop letting American war profiteers and their shadowy Saudi backers push their buttons! Those entities don’t care a bit whether Iran and Israel bomb each other into oblivion so long as the weapons sales are good. Wake up, people! Refuse to be terrorized! Stop letting yourselves be manipulated by the fear and hate-mongers!
— Posted by Eileen Coles
September 26th,
7:36 pm
Dr. Bollinger, you did the right thing, morally and politically. And you rose even higher by giving this interview. My respect to you!
For all we know, Ahmadinejad displays all the necessary signs of becoming the next Adolf Hitler. His rethorics is certainly very clear – as that of Hitler was. Ignoring him wouldn’t help, and therefore the invitation to speak was wherease exposing him was the only right thing to do.
I admire your firm yet equanimous stand. I can only wish that the president of the European University which employs me will take a similarly corageous stand in such situation!
— Posted by adriano19
September 26th,
7:41 pm
The problem with Bollinger is that he reserves his anger for officially-designated enemies of the United States, and he’s more than happy to accommodate actual dictators if they’re favored US clients–specifically, Pervez Musharraf. For details, see: l
To the Times: it would be interesting to see what Bollinger has to say about this double standard of his; I’d encourage you to question him about it and share his response with us.
— Posted by John Caruso
September 26th,
7:41 pm
2. Show me where has he explicitly denied the existence of Holocaust. (He has not).
Oh, Really?
From the AP 12/14/05
For the third time in a week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Wednesday the Holocaust is a “myth” that Europeans have used to create a Jewish state in the heart of the Islamic world.
Speaking to thousands of people in the southeastern city of Zahedan, Ahmadinejad said: “Today, they have created a myth in the name of Holocaust and consider it to be above God, religion and the prophets.”
— Posted by Michael
September 26th,
8:10 pm
There is no excuse, no matter how you feel about Ahmadinejad, if you invite him you treat him like a guest, The behaviour of Mr. Bollinger only confirms the Iranians belief about Americans and is not helping the US in their already tarnished reputation worldwide
— Posted by Suki Tasire
September 26th,
8:17 pm
John Caruso’s point (#112) is well taken. Bollinger’s excoriation of world dictators is selective, following the official line out of Washington. His encomium of Musharraf is an excellent example. Does the public know that our great CIA director, George Tenet, is a product of Columbia’s School of International Affairs? Why doesn’t Bollinger invite him back to Columbia and lambast him for getting us into the Iraq war with the fake intelligence on WMD’s? Do you imagine him inviting Bush to Columbia as a guest speaker and treating him like dirt before the guy has even had the chance to open his mouth.
My advice to Columbia’s Bollinger: stay out of politics and get back to the business of education. You’re way out of your depth.
— Posted by Rich
September 26th,
8:28 pm
Picture this. The year is 2080 and America is long past her prime. War breaks out between an American-led coaltion and another group of countries. The enemy forces defeat the US and occupy its territory from coast to coast.
The general of the occupying forces is camped in Atlanta and is under pressure from his forces to be allowed to raze the city to the ground.
Now if he’s a history freak and has read about how Americans behaved towards Ahmadinejad while he was a guest here, how do you think he would react. Thumbs down or up.
— Posted by Rakesh Krishnan
September 26th,
8:32 pm
I want to make just some remarks about this statement of Ahmadinejad at Columbia
Ahmadinejed said, We do not have homosexuals in Iran of the kind you have in your country.
Obviously he was not saying We don’t have any homosexuals whatsoever in Iran, something which nobody anywhere would believe, not even in Iran. And by implication, he was not telling his audience, I am a plain liar! which the American media alleges him to be saying.
What he was saying is that homosexuality in the US and homosexuality in Iran are issues which are as far apart from one another as two cultural universes can be. They are so dissimilar that any attempt to relate them and bring them under a common caption would be misleading. Homosexuality is not an issue in Iran as it is in present-day American society, he was saying in polite terms.
Homosexuality in the US is a omnipresent social and political issue which crops up in almost every discourse and dabate on matters pertaining to American society and politics. So much so that I think it was a major issue in the last two presidential elections which paved Bush’s way to the White House, and the reason why the Democrats lost these two presidential elections because of the large conservative section of the American public (the red states).
By contrast, homosexuality is a non-issue in Iran and is considered an uncommon perversion (except as a topic of jokes about a certain town). Prom the viewpoint of penal law too it is does not receive much attention as the requirements for a sentence (four eye-witnesses, who have actually seen the details of the act) are so astringent as to make punishment almost impossible. (It would be interesting to know how many have been accused of it during the last two decades)
By contrast adultery and homosexuality are legalized forms of behaviour in most of Europe and America, not criminal acts but perfectly acceptable forms of behaviour, as legitimate natural human rights which need to be taught to all Asian and African societies as well.
There was also a subtle hint in his remark that he wants to move on from this topic to more serious and relevant matters, a point which would be obvious to anyone conversant with Persian language and culture, a subtle hint (like his another remark concerning the disgraceful conduct of Columbia president, when while formally inviting Columbia academics to Iran he said that “You can be assured that we will treat you in Iran with 100% respect.”
Iranians, being linguistically a very sophisticated people, speak a lot in hints which are invisible to outsiders. Americans in comparison tend to be often as straight forward as primitive.
I have heard almost all his speeches and interviews held during his short visit to New York. In these few hours he has said harshest of things that have ever been said by anyone concerning the US government. Yet the language he has used never violates any norm of polite and cultured parlance.
(In general the Persians, like some other civilized eastern societies, have developed the art of making the harshest of remarks in softest and friendliest of words. Americans, as Bollinger proved, have much to learn from civilized nations concerning the civilities of civilized hostility.)
— Posted by A Q Qarai
September 26th,
8:45 pm
Does Mr.Bollinger know anything about Iranian culture, about Islam, or anything related to the Middle East? How can you criticize what you don’t know? It sounded like he just ran a list of talking points from GB. How many Iranian minds does Mr. Bollinger think he’s changed with his theatrics? What happened to America’s propriety when handling a guest? I dislike the Iranian president’s actions, but this was inappropriate. Western nations and the middle east are far, far apart, and this demonstrates it. Now if only some learned minds would help bridge the gap!
— Posted by rian
September 26th,
8:52 pm
There is a difference between asking sharp questions and rude behavior. Mr Bollinger could have made his point without being uncivilized. In this aspect the students probably did a much better job than Mr Bollinger. He squandered a very good opportunity to show what America stands for and instead showed a face of America that many people believe is the truth – arrogant, brash and hypocritical.
— Posted by asheesh
September 26th,
8:57 pm
I think that Bollinger’s rhetoric was just perfect for this fellow. One needs to earn respect; it should not automatically be given based on title. Didn’t Bollinger take the risk by allowing this imp to have his stage?
This guy has some “interesting” opinions. The real question is, “Are these positions shared by the majority in the country in which he leads (or rules)?” I think we all know the answer – a resounding “yes” in public and the opposite behind closed doors.
— Posted by George
September 26th,
9:16 pm
Well there are two issues here. One is whether you invite Mr. Ahmadinejad. The second is whether Mr. Bollinger acted appropriately.
And of course what really happened is rather simple. Mr. Bolligner got himself into political trouble on issue #1, by inviting Mr. Ahmadinejad.
So he tried to deflect all the anger and resentment and outrage by verbally attacking Mr. Ahmadinejad, when he actually appeared.
Is it appropriate to attack an invited head of state like this? Of course not. It was just a cheap emotional performance, from someone who got himself in an embarrassing political position, and desperately wanted out of it.
— Posted by Paul
September 26th,
9:28 pm
Congratultions to Mr Bollinger for telling the President of Iran the truth. Speaking “truth to power” has been the failure of our own politicians.
We know well Ahmadinejad’s views and promises.
Ahmadinejad as President of Iran, has the power to gravely influence the course of World events and he has promised the annihilation of another State and follows the path of a promised nuclear annihilation. The World will suffer not just the loss of millions of people in a single nuclear bomb, but also a nuclear winter threatening the whole planet.
Ahmadinejad was here to set the trap.After power comes the propaganda groundwork to excuse the planned future actions. Then comes the attainment of the weapons, followed by their use.
The propaganda has been swallowed by those who complain of Mr Bollinger talking truth to power.
They believe Ahmadinehad insulted by Mr Bollinger and set-aside Ahgmadiniejad insulting the millions who died in the Holocaust.
Hopefully the more decent people of Iran are not fooled by Ahmadinehjad and will see that there are people abroad who despise him and that Ahmadinejad leads Iran into as much danger as Ahmadinejad threatens others with.
The leader of Iran is a warmonger, he led Hezbollah to war and plans more attacks and war victories. New weapons bring terrifying opportunities and he prepares the propaganda ground for the use of those weapons.
Respondents would be better to deal with the real matters of substance, rather than with their fear of dirty hands on a matter of small importance such as invitational decorum,a red herring in the real world of power and war.
The right of free speech extends to Mr Bollinger when confronting a World leader who has expressed the desire to wipe out millions of people. Congratualtions again Mr Bollinger, history will record you were right to stand up to the man and call him out on his immoral and murderous views.
— Posted by Alan Fitterman
September 26th,
9:37 pm
Perhaps the translation of the word “myth” is flawed. If you read Joseph Campbell’s work on the subject you will find that the definition is more akin to an embellished story that has some kernel of truth. For example, there are many flood myths throughout history, one of them being the story of Noah and the Ark. Did Noah exist, lest take 2 of every type of animal aboard a wooden ship — hard to imagine. But there may have been a large flood in the eastern Mediterranean several thousand years ago, this seems to be the kernel of truth. Nevertheless, it serves a teaching point. In regards to the labeling of the holocaust as a myth: Were 8 million people of a particular religion killed during WWII? How many Romani (Gypsies) were killed? How many mentally retarded, crippled, homeless people were taken to prison camps or killed? Does it matter? In some ways it does, because we seem to be using this number to be calculating some sort of political balancing sheet. But more importantly the story of the Holocaust serves as a reminder of the need for peace between different peoples and the hysteria that evolves from the corners of our mind and collective consciousness when we led astray by our leaders. Today we are the global fascists, ironically beating the drum of democracy, while trampling over the flowers of freedom. We enslave the developing nations through the global markets demanding cheap goods and cheap labor, we invade those nations rich in resources, we support oppressive regimes that benefit corporate expansion, we pollute, we consume, we destroy. The holocaust is a myth, it is an allegory of the worst behavior in man. It represents the consumption, the greed and the hatred of those whom we perceive to be different and what we wish to do with them in our most depraved mindset. Shame on all of us for we are all born with the capacity to hate. The irony remains: that millions of people are suffering because some conclude FROM that story the right to exact revenge FOR that story. Witness today the Palestinian condition. How is this different from what was heaped upon those unfortunate people of Europe during WWII. We have learned nothing from our mythology and for this the god(s), whichever one or ones you believe in, should weep.
— Posted by Joshua
September 26th,
9:37 pm
Sadly, I expected more from Bollinger….. You are in context a leader yourself, more importantly an academic leader. I certainly would not enroll at Columbia for an education on diplomacy.
You helped set back a country already hurting in the diplomacy circles another number of years back. Shame on you, It’s charades like yours that ridicule Americans all over the world. If I were President Ahmadinejad, I’d send you a thank-you letter.
— Posted by GW
September 26th,
10:24 pm
Bollinger had no right to rip apart President Ahmadinejad. The President was a guest at his (while not his) university and regardless of his personal views he did not speak for the entire university but rather used the forum as a media grab.
It scares me that someone like this has been placed in a position of infulence that is promoting hate.
America is pushing the limits on a world stage of their own amendement on Freedom of Speech. He captured the world press by his shocking tirad. If he can so boldly say that Iran is a terrorist state, then I can so boldly say that Columbia University and all it students are wrapped under Bollingers views.
— Posted by peter the canadian
September 26th,
10:31 pm
“I despise Mr. Ahmadinejad’s positions such as his shameless denial of the Holocaust and his shameless lies trying to spin away the existence of gays, or defending the treatment of women and academics as fair, or trying to claim that their nuke program is peaceful.”
What rubbish! The holocaust was not denied. Read ( 5): .
As far as the gay issue, there are many Christians who think that this is against God’s will and plan – and many are in the USA. And if you research, you will see that whilst Iran has oil, they are short of power, so why can’t they have nuclear energy? The US does, Australia does, even India and Pakistan do. Drop the double standards and stop looking for a fight where there is none. Or have you all forgotten about the WMD? It’s time for the US to show leadership instead of rattling the saber again!
— Posted by Andrew
September 26th,
10:50 pm
Only in America! When diplomacy is needed to win the harts and minds of people of other nations, we use troops ( in Iraq) and verbally abuse the head of a nation state.
I doubt that Colombia U ( which I attended) will receive applications from propective Iranian students or neighboring countries until Bollinger leaves.
Bollinger made points with which alumni benefactor?
— Posted by Vincent G. Thomas
September 26th,
11:07 pm
We non-Americans marvel how you Americans have a knack to make yourself the laughing stock of the world. Your leaders, may they be academic or political, come across as uneducated, mean and uncultured. What is the term you use to describe such people – rednecks? I am sure that most Americans are not like Bollinger, Bush, etc. I only hope you all have the sense to rid yourselves of such creeps.
— Posted by KayEss
September 26th,
11:08 pm
Obviously th last ten of you were not affected by 9/11. He pays terrorists. Sure let me open the door and give him milk and cookies.
— Posted by Max
September 26th,
11:16 pm
To get another point of view of the Palestinian vs Israeli conflict, read this link.
— Posted by Mike
September 26th,
11:47 pm
Having invited the President of Iran, the host Bollinger’s introducing Ahmedinejad as ‘petty and cruel dictator’ would shock most of the Indians and perhaps Asians. It has nothing to do whether the description was accurate or not; it is all about the civility to which an invited guest would be entitled to.
One could ask him tough questions and also respond to his concerns, such as that why should Palestinians pay for holocaust?
— Posted by S K DHOLAKIA
September 26th,
11:50 pm
It seems as though Bollinger (as well as many other citizens of the world) is very preoccupied of Ahmadinejad’s lies about using nuclear power to create nuclear weapons. Did he (or anyone else who has similar questions) ever stop to think that Iran also has a right to arm and defend themselves? Iran is the corner stone of the Middle East. The United States has been allied with Israel for so long; providing them with billions of dollars a year to build up their army and [nuclear] weapons programs. In addition to the U.S. and Israel possessing nuclear weapons, Pakistan also has nuclear weapons. The stalemate situation in the Middle-East is merely a ticking time bomb for World War III. The U.S. already has a presence in Iraq and an ally in Israel. Why doesn’t Iran have the right to protect themselves? I don’t think the question should be about who does and who does not have the right to bear nuclear weapons. The answer should be that acquiring nuclear weapons is not acceptable in this day and age and will not be tolerated.
And did the U.S. forget about the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? I think that document was thrown in the trash even before the ink had a chance to dry…..
— Posted by Sarah A.

Ref: NY Times

Also read iranian-university-chancellors-ask-bollinger-10-questions and Uncivilised words

THE REACH OF WAR; Civilian Claims On U.S. Suggest The Toll of War

In February 2006, nervous American soldiers in Tikrit killed an Iraqi fisherman on the Tigris River after he leaned over to switch off his engine. A year earlier, a civilian filling his car and an Iraqi Army officer directing traffic were shot by American soldiers in a passing convoy in Balad, for no apparent reason.

The incidents are among many thousands of claims submitted to the Army by Iraqi and Afghan civilians seeking payment for noncombat killings, injuries or property damage American forces inflicted on them or their relatives.

The claims provide a rare window into the daily chaos and violence faced by civilians and troops in the two war zones. Recently, the Army disclosed roughly 500 claims to the American Civil Liberties Union in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. They are the first to be made public.

They represent only a small fraction of the claims filed. In all, the military has paid more than $32 million to Iraqi and Afghan civilians for noncombat-related killings, injuries and property damage, an Army spokeswoman said. That figure does not include condolence payments made at a unit commander’s discretion.

The paperwork, examined by The New York Times, provides unusually detailed accounts of how bystanders to the conflicts have become targets of American forces grappling to identify who is friend, who is foe.

In the case of the fisherman in Tikrit, he and his companion desperately tried to appear unthreatening to an American helicopter overhead.

”They held up the fish in the air and shouted ‘Fish! Fish!’ to show they meant no harm,” said the Army report attached to the claim filed by the fisherman’s family. The Army refused to compensate for the killing, ruling that it was ”combat activity,” but approved $3,500 for his boat, net and cellphone, which drifted away and were stolen.

In the killings at the gas station in Balad, documents show that the Army determined that the neither of the dead Iraqis had done anything hostile or criminal, and approved $5,000 to the civilian’s brother but nothing for the Iraqi officer.

In another incident, in 2005, an American soldier in a dangerous Sunni Arab area south of Baghdad killed a boy after mistaking his book bag for a bomb satchel. The Army paid the boy’s uncle $500.

The Foreign Claims Act, which governs such compensation, does not deal with combat-related cases. For those cases, including the boy’s, the Army may offer a condolence payment as a gesture of regret with no admission of fault, of usually no higher than $2,500 per person killed.

The total number of claims filed, or paid, is unclear, although extensive data has been provided in reports to Congress. There is no way to know immediately whether disciplinary action or prosecution has resulted from the cases.

Soldiers hand out instruction cards after mistakes are made, so Iraqis know where to file claims. ”The Army does not target civilians,” said Maj. Anne D. Edgecomb, an Army spokeswoman. ”Sadly, however, the enemy’s tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan unnecessarily endanger innocent civilians.”

There are no specific guidelines to tell Army field officers judging the claims how to evaluate the cash value of a life taken, Major Edgecomb said. She said officers ”consider the contributions the deceased made to those left behind and offer an award based on the facts, local tribal customs, and local law.”

In Haditha, one of the most notorious incidents involving American troops in Iraq, the Marines paid residents $38,000 after troops killed two dozen people in November 2005.

The relatively small number of claims divulged by the Army show patterns of misunderstanding at checkpoints and around American military convoys that often result in inadvertent killings. In one incident, in Feb. 18, 2006, a taxi approached a checkpoint east of Baquba that was not properly marked with signs to slow down, one Army claim evaluation said. Soldiers fired on the taxi, killing a woman and severely wounding her daughter and son. The Army approved an unusually large condolence payment of $7,500.

In September 2005, soldiers killed a man and his sister by firing 200 rounds into their car as it approached a checkpoint, apparently too quickly, near Mussayib. The Army lieutenant colonel who handled the claim awarded relatives a $10,000 compensation payment, finding that the soldiers had overstepped the rules of engagement.

”There are some very tragic losses of civilian life, including losses of whole families,” said Anthony D. Romero, the A.C.L.U.’s executive director, in an interview. He said the claims showed ”enormous confusion on all sides, both from the civilian population on how to interact with the armed services and also among the soldiers themselves.”

Of the 500 cases released, 204, or about 40 percent, were apparently rejected because the injury, death or property damage was deemed to have been ”directly or indirectly” related to combat. Of the claims approved for payment, at least 87 were not combat-related, and 77 were condolence payments for incidents the Army judged to be combat-related.

About 10 percent of the claims were rejected because the Army could not find a ”significant activity” report confirming an incident.

A summary of the cases is online at

In Iraq, rules for evaluating claims have changed. Before President Bush declared major combat operations over, in May 2003, commanders considered most checkpoint shootings to be combat-related. Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the former commander of day-to-day operations in Iraq, stiffened rules at checkpoints. In late 2003, as more Iraqis were accidentally injured or killed, the Army began offering condolence payments. It has not always worked as planned, said Sarah Holewinski, the executive director of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, a nonprofit group in Washington.

”Sometimes families would get paid and sometimes their neighbors wouldn’t,” she said. ”It caused a lot of resentments among the Iraqis, which is ironic because it was a program specifically meant to foster good will.”

The Army usually assigns a captain, major or lieutenant colonel to accept claims in Iraq and Afghanistan and decide on payment.

But in and near combat zones in Iraq, a claim’s merit is quickly judged by an officer juggling dozens of new claims each week, said Jon E. Tracy, a former Army captain and lawyer who adjudicated Iraqi civilian claims in the Baghdad area from May 2003 through July 2004.

”I know plenty of lawyers who did not pay any condolences payments at all,” said Mr. Tracy, who is now a legal consultant for the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict. ”There was no reason for it. It was clearly not combat, and the victim was clearly innocent, all the facts are there, witness statements, but they wouldn’t pay them.”

Half of the claims he adjudicated were property damage claims from collisions with military vehicles, he said. Most fraudulent claims were property claims; few were for wrongful killings. ”You just had to read people,” he said.

About a quarter of claims were for personal injury or deaths. In his year judging claims, Mr. Tracy said he paid 52 condolence payments, most for deaths. ”I had three to four times more,” Mr. Tracy said, ”I just didn’t have enough money.”

Ref: NY Times