Today, the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmandinejad, speaks at the United Nations. Let’s hope he gets a more civil reception than the one he got yesterday at Columbia University.
The fact to remember is that the Iranian president was invited to Columbia by its president, Lee Bollinger, to address the students and faculty. President Bollinger introduced him and began his remarks this way: “Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator.” Bollinger’s 10 minute remarks went down from there. He accused President Ahmandinejad of being anti free speech, anti women, anti gays, anti students, anti the Holocaust and for the destruction of Israel. He then predicted that the Iranian would not have the intellectual courage to answer the questions put to him.
Now the point is not whether these accusations are true. Most of them are. The question is whether it was appropriate to level them against an invited guest. President Bollinger’s strategy was clear. He was really speaking to the Jewish lobby which had harshly criticized Columbia for inviting the Iranian in the first place.
But President Ahmandinejad was also speaking to a wider audience – the Muslim world. And other Muslims would have been as insulted as he was. I daresay the encounter was a propaganda coup for the Iranian.
When Columbia invites a foreign dignitary to speak, one would have thought the University was confident enough in itself to provide the speaker (even a strong enemy) with the conditions asssociated with free speech. That did not happen at Columbia yesterday. A pity.