Tuesday, September 25, 2007

President Bollinger's Criticism of Ahmadinejad Is Not Evidence of Academic Freedom at Columbia U

My wife's pal, Mary Anne, was going to visit us in Manhattan last night but couldn't because the streets were too jammed. At the invitation of Columbia's President Lee Bollinger, Iran's President Ahmadinejad was in town. As a result, Mary Anne couldn't find a taxi. It's been so long since she ventured into a subway that she forgot that she could take the cross-town shuttle. So she cancelled her visit. Unfortunately, President Ahmadinejad was not asked to cancel his.

I have previously blogged about President Bollinger's failure to protect Jim Gilchrist when student-thugs stopped Gilchrist from speaking at Columbia. President Bollinger has not invited any high profile conservatives or libertarians to Columbia, rather following Columbia's long tradition of paying special attention to the children of German romanticism, to include Nazis in the 1930s and Ahamdinejad now, and ignoring or suppressing the children of Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson.

Having invited President Ahmadinejad and having been subjected to criticism for doing so, President Bollinger aimed to show the world how robust academic debate at Columbia can be. He lanced President Ahmadinejad. The Chronicle of Higher Education (paid access)notes that President Bollinger called President Ahmadinejad "fanatical". President Ahmadinejad replied that President Bollinger had violated the rules of hospitality. President Ahmadinejad is apparently a supporter of academic collegiality, at least when he's not exterminating dissidents.

The New York Sun's reaction to President Bollinger's introduction was mixed. On the one hand, the Sun regrets that Columbia gave goose-stepping German romantics, common among Columbia's faculty, an opportunity to applaud at Ahmadinejad's holocaust denial. The quack academics' support "will be a gift to him that keeps on giving". The Sun argued that President Bollinger aimed to use Ahmadinejad's presence as a "teaching moment" especially in light of the widespread anti-Semitism among the Columbia faculty. President Bollinger strongly criticized President Ahmadinejad's holocaust denial conference and expressed "revulsion" for what President Ahmadinejad stands. According to the Sun, President Bollinger put Columbia' anti-Semitic Middle Eastern Studies department on the spot.

President Bollinger also criticized the incarceration of Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian-American employee of the left-wing Open Society Institute. President Bollinger also announced that Columbia was offering Tajbakhsh a teaching job.

President Bollinger's response to President Ahmadinejad raises several questions. First, why so much attention from the president of Columbia to the crackpot ideas of President Ahmadinejad? Such attention would be unnecessary were Columbia University committed to academic freedom. Were conservatives, libertarians and a range of views given free rein at Columbia, which suffers from the dominance of goose-stepping neo-German-romantics, then President Ahmadinejad wouldn't require the university president's attention. Second, from the standpoint of intellectual import, President Ahmadinejad deserves less, not more, attention from President Bollinger than does Jim Gilchrist. Third, there were a number of Ahmadinejad supporters in the audience, obviously a fringe, ideologically-obsessed segment of the public. Given this skewness, is Columbia University an institution that can be taken seriously?

Courtesy of Larwyn, quite a few bloggers have nailed this issue nicely. In Slate, Anne Appelbaum argues

"the novelty of Ahmadinejad's appearance at Columbia lies in the fact that he wanted to make that speech at all. Though a blustering Columbia dean foolishly told Fox News that "if he were willing to engage in a debate and a discussion," the university would happily invite Adolf Hitler to speak, too, it's impossible, in fact, to imagine the F├╝hrer accepting."

Hitler was really pre-television, while Ahmadinejad is post-World Wide Web. Perhaps Ahamdinejad's media strategy has more in common with Abraham Lincoln's. Lincoln nailed the presidential nomination when he came to New York to speak at Cooper Union. Whom or what country is President Ahmadinejad aiming to nail?

Arthur Herman in the New York Post calls Columbia's invitation to Ahmadinejad "abject, squalid and shameless", after a cowardly resolution by Oxford University's debating union in 1933 that it would not fight Hitler. Herman points out that Columbia bans ROTC but not President Ahamdinejad. While President Bollinger argues that a university is a forum for argument, Ahmadinjead is not a theorist, but a real-world murderer. Herman is in effect suggesting that the best people to argue the question of drug illegalization are not drug dealers and users, but people who have studied the problem academically. Or the right people to argue the case against the death penalty are not convicted murderers, and there is little or no free speech added to an invitation for a serial killer to speak on campus. The left views President Ahmadinejad as emblematic of an anti-capitalist struggle, and so implicitly applauds the incarceration of journalists, the holocaust denial and the thinly veiled threats of nuclear aggression.

Merv of PrairiePundit calls President Bollinger's invitation to President Ahmadinejad "corruption of academic culture" and "brainless activisim, not academic freedom". He notes that "professors seek publicity, not freedom". Prairiepundit mocks the "punk activism poisoning Ivy League faculties". Merv, quoting David Limbaugh, points out that the First Amendment does not oblige Columbia to invite President Ahmadinjead. He notes that "Contrary to the left's claims, there is nothing we can learn from Ahmadinejad that we don't already know -- at least not in this forum."

In contrast, Jules Crittenden raves about President Bollinger's speech. He notes:

"Among the many parts I liked, is this part where in plain terms he calls Iran the enemy in Iraq, and asks A’jad why he’s supporting terrorists who kill American troops. How come everyone else seems to have such a hard time saying that?"

Rick Moran of American Thinker quotes Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post calling Columbia's invitation to Ahmadinejad a disagrace:

"THE PROBLEM with Columbia's action, the reason that there can be no moral justification for the university's decision, is because by inviting Ahmadinejad to campus, Columbia has made the pros and cons of genocide a legitimate subject for debate. By asking Ahmadinejad challenging questions, Bollinger has reduced the right of the Jewish people to live to a question of preferences."

Moran goes on to quote several neo-German Romanticists such as Ezra Klein, who asks "When did America become so weak, so insecure, that we mistrust our capacity to converse with potentially hostile world leaders?" Perhaps an invitation to a university is unnecessary for conversation, though. And as Merv of Prairiepundit points out, we already know what President Ahmadinejad thinks. Perhaps Klein's neo-German-romantic appetite for holocaust denial was whetted during the Iranian holcaust denial conference last year. Or perhaps Klein want to see more evidence. Professor Julian Cole adds:

"Taking potshots at a bantam cock of a populist like Ahmadinejad is actually a way of expressing another, deeper anxiety: fear of Iran's rising position as a regional power and its challenge to the American and Israeli status quo."

Well, yeah. Hitler was a "bantam cock of a populist" too, Professor Cole. Shouldn't Neville Chamberlain have been afraid him? Or was Chamberlain right to follow an appeasement strategy?

Finally, Dinocrat quotes the lies about President Ahmadinejad's speech in the Iranian news agency, IRNA:

"…The audience on repeated occasion applauded Ahmadinejad..."

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