I listened to Columbia’s President Bollinger "introduce" Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today as a "petty tyrant" and confess to being cheered by his words and hopeful that I was wrong to question the invitation. I hoped that Bollinger was on to something and that he was much more clever than I had been led to believe by his critics. But as I continued to listen (on Dennis Prager’s radio program) I found myself agreeing with Prager that it is extremely unlikely that anyone in Iran will ever hear Bollinger’s words. Then, as I listened to Ahmadinejad’s ramblings, I became even more convinced that the invitation was more than a mistake. It was a colossal mistake. The applauding in the audience as Ahmadinejad argued that the Palestinians should "not have to pay" for Europe’s role in the "so-called" (as he would have it) holocaust, is not only shameful--it is ammunition for our enemies abroad. He further dissembled reason as he discussed the need for "free and open discussion" on the question of whether the holocaust even happened. He papered over common sense as he suggested that there should be openness on the question of whether the holocaust happened, but that in Iran freedom is at the height of its glory because of its oppression of women. There can be no absolutes, you see, except those dictated by his understanding of ALLAH.
Ahmadinejad will go home a very important man now. He will be able to puff out his already considerably puffed-up chest. He was able to make the Americans dance. He came here to make Americans look weak and foolish. He achieved his purpose. We do not look stronger for tolerating this "free speech" and this "open exchange of ideas." No ideas were exchanged. Bollinger called Ahmadinejad the names he deserves to be called, but Bollinger was chastised by Ahmadinejad, essentially told to sit down and shut up and a good number of students at his university applauded. I think perhaps I might applaud that suggestion as well--but for different reasons.
Lisa Schiffren was there and you can read her impressions by clicking on that link. She has some good insights on the character of the crowd.
UPDATE: There is a saying in politics that "perception is reality"--whether or not it is actually reality. If that is true, I have some concerns about the perceptions that seem to be emanating from this Ahmadinejad talk. The first is that--of all the outrageous and hideous things that man said--the only cut that’s getting any negative play from his speech in the mainstream press is his claim that Iran has no homosexuals. THIS is the outrage? The holocaust never happened in Ahmadinejad-land, and we’re worried that he thinks Iranians don’t produce homosexuals?! Beyond that, the media coverage I’ve seen portrays Bollinger as a hero for inviting him and petty for attacking him. I stand by what I said above. This only helped Ahmadinejad--if it stirred up anything in America, it was only more confusion.