Debating Ahmadinejad at Columbia

This shows not only Bollinger's complete lack of civility to a guest but his hypocrisy on free speech. It also shows the double standards of Columbia who welcomed an actual dictator Musharraf with open arms as they had welcomed Hitler's ambassador ages ago.
It is impossible not to sense that there is a huge psyops operation in which the media especially those such as FOX and CNN gladly promote that is effectively demonising Ahmadinejad. Of course the president is really not all that powerful in Iran but there needs to be a human face placed upon EVIL and this works. The US public will be well primed for any attack on Iran.
Debating Ahmadinejad at Columbia


[posted online on September 25, 2007]

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
(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
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
and littered the brick paths. Students milled around the campus,
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:
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
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
East, spoke of the mood on campus. "Before the talk, the entire campus
was electrified," he said. "Everybody was talking about it. When we
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
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

But where were all these references to freedom of speech just last
when Bollinger first endorsed, then rescinded, the SIPA invitation to
Ahmadinejad? Then-SIPA dean Lisa Anderson had invited the Iranian
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
withering media criticism--only to hear him stoop to name-calling.

"Bollinger's remarks were uncalled for," said Julie Payne, a
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]
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
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
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
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.
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,
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
nations and admitting that the Holocaust had indeed taken place.
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

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

In this face-off between Bollinger's prefacing remarks and
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

"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.


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