More on Columbia and Ahmedinejad:

Last week, I reported that Dean Lisa Anderson at Columbia University had invited Iranian President Ahmadinejad to speak, and that the event was canceled. The reason given at the time by Dean Anderson was "security reasons" but I suspected that it had something to do with the potential tarnishing of Columbia's reputation as well. Now, the New York Sun confirms:

The dean of Columbia's school of international and public affairs, Lisa Anderson, had independently invited Mr. Ahmadinejad to speak at the World Leader's Forum, a year-long program that aims to unite "renowned intellectuals and cultural icons from many nations to examine global challenges and explore cultural perspectives."

In a statement issued yesterday afternoon, Mr. Bollinger said he canceled Mr. Ahmadinejad's invitation because he couldn't be certain it would "reflect the academic values that are the hallmark of a University event such as our World Leaders Forum." He told Ms. Anderson that Mr. Ahmadinejad could speak at the school of international and public affairs, just not as a part of the university-wide leader's forum.

Ms. Anderson's assistant cited an inability to arrange for proper security as the reason for the cancellation.

Mr. Bollinger told Ms. Anderson that while he finds Mr. Ahmadinejad's views "repugnant," she has the "right and responsibility to invite speakers whom she believes will add to the academic experience of our students."

President Bollinger made the right call here. Ahmadinejad is certainly not a "renowned intellectual," and if he is a "cultural icon" it's only because he's the world's most prominent Holocaust denier, America-hater, and, as one critic puts it, "Hitler wannabe." Columbia would have been humiliating itself to have Ahmadinejad speak at this particular forum.

In general, I agree with Alan Dershowitz:

Alan Dershowitz, said universities must either declare that they will serve as open platforms or articulate clear standards regarding who is welcome to speak on their campuses.

"Bollinger should have said that anybody can speak at Columbia period, but he would never say that. This was an educational moment missed by the university to articulate what its standards are," Mr. Dershowitz said.

But in this case, the World Leader's Forum did have standards, and Bollinger was well within his authority in declining to endorse the idea that Ahmadinejad is either a renowned intellectual, or someone whose "cultural perspetives" are worth hearing.

UPDATE: Hmm. The World Leader's Forum website actually speaks of inviting "government leaders," not just intellectuals and cultural icons, so Ahmadinejad was within the purview of the program, and it also looks like Dean Anderson was put in charge of the program. Of course, ultimately the President of a university gets to decide who gets invited by the university to a prestigious lecture series, which is far different than inappropriately intervening with, e.g., who gets invited by student groups, but it turns out Dershowitz was right even in this case; Bollinger made the correct decision that he didn't want Columbia's reputation besmirched by Ahmadinejad, but he did so on an ad hoc basis without articulating standards that apply universally. This makes it look much more like a decision motivated by a desire to avoid bad publicity rather than a principled decision to uphold some academic standards in the relevant program.

Indeed, one has to wonder about the academic content of a program "co-sponsored this year by a variety of on- and off-campus partners, including the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia Business School, the School of the Arts, the Earth Institute, the Heyman Center for the Humanities, the Committee on Global Thought, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and Congressman Charles Rangel's office." Sounds less like an academic program, and more like a program to boost Columbia's visibility by brining in famous "movers and shakers." As such, it's not surprising that Bollinger would intervene when the program was to boost Columbia's visibility in an undisreable way.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. More on Columbia and Ahmedinejad:
  2. Columbia U. Dean Invites Ahmadinejad to Speak:
Justin (mail):
He also eats the blood of puppies.

This is silly.
9.24.2006 10:21pm
Frequent Reader:
If I were at Columbia, I'd be disappointed. I'd have missed the chance to hear from a man who, worthy or not, is taking an increasingly important presence on the world stage. Hearing his message from the horse's mouth and forming my own opinion would be vastly superior to getting my info from websites of ill repute and from our MSM, whose inadequacies have been so convincingly revealed by this blog.

Ahmadinejad's appearance at the forum is entirely consistent with Columbia's educational and civic mission. Allowing him to speak does not translate into embracing his values.
9.24.2006 10:38pm
PleaseGetReal (mail):
I wonder how many conservatives are invited to speak at Columbia. Precious few relative to the numbers of liberals (or in this case maniacs), I'd wager. And therein lies the problem.
"If I were at Columbia, I'd be disappointed." - that I was consistently exposed to only half the dialog.
9.24.2006 10:58pm
Commenterlein (mail):

Ahmadinejad is about as conservative as they get. He is also a fundamentalist lunatic who hates the U.S., but he sure is a social conservative.
9.24.2006 11:34pm
C W:
As a student at Columbia, I am sad that Bollinger bowed to political pressure. I think that as an educational institution, Columbia has a duty to provide an open forum, especially to controversial topics. Even if one doesn't think that Ahmadinejad is a "renowned intellectual" or "cultural icon," it must be admitted that he is a world leader and does possess great influential power. This is true even if, and maybe even especially if, such power is limited to influencing those who are already radicals. I think that it was a sad day for Columbia insofar as it chose to wall itself off from the dialog of the international community. Even if Ahmadinejad's ideas may seem ludicrous to some, it is still part of the rhetoric that the World Leader's Forum is meant to address. Columbia passed on an opportunity to be a part of that dialog and possibly bring to light flaws in Ahmadinejad's discourse.
9.24.2006 11:42pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Evidently the Dean was willing to give a speech right to Ahmadinejad that the university denies its own students. FIRE gives Columbia a "red" speech code rating. Columbia prohibits certain speech that some people would deem "offensive" or speech creating a "hostile atmosphere." Now wouldn't a holocaust denier offend some people at Columbia even by his mere presence?
9.24.2006 11:43pm
Justin (mail):
I know that when I was at Columbia Law, the Federalist Society brought a ton of speakers every year, including two conspirators who I've personally seen speak at the University
9.24.2006 11:45pm
Pantapon Rose (mail):
Seems to me he represents a growing trend among Europeans and some on the left that
1. Israel is an illegitimate nation, and
2. The Holocaust was either an exaggeration or a myth.
Look at the signs that are held up at any 'anti-war' rally, and you'll see these beliefs.
And many Arabs have already accepted them. He seems not only to fulfill the status of cultural icon, but seems representative of a trend in the world that people should be aware of and exposed to, especially the future leaders of our country.
9.24.2006 11:52pm
Freddy Hill (mail):
He also eats the blood of puppies.

No, no Justin, you got it wrong again. Actually, HE thinks that Jews do that. Oh sorry, my bad. He thinks that Jews drink the blood of babies. He does not give a damn about puppies, I don't think, except that he as a good Muslim probably thinks that they are dirty.
9.24.2006 11:59pm
Even if Ahmadinejad's ideas may seem ludicrous to some, it is still part of the rhetoric that the World Leader's Forum is meant to address. Columbia passed on an opportunity to be a part of that dialog and possibly bring to light flaws in Ahmadinejad's discourse.

Yes, because flaws in his discourse have yet to be determined and having him speak at Columbia would further expose him.

It's unfortunate they did not get Ahmadinejad,I was looking forward to seeing his entourage act out the famous Iranian play "Death of a Zionist".
9.25.2006 12:05am
Ron Hardin (mail) (www):
Mr. Bollinger told Ms. Anderson that while he finds Mr. Ahmadinejad's views "repugnant," she has the "right and responsibility to invite speakers whom she believes will add to the academic experience of our students."

Invite a grammarian, too.
9.25.2006 12:33am
So, out of curiosity, could Ahmadinejad gotten the same sort of treatment from Columbia gay student groups that Scalia got at NYU? Heck, I'd just take a serious question.

"Mr. Ahmadinejad, your country recently publicly hanged two teenagers solely for homosexual sexual activity. How can you defend that and complain about American human rights?"

Though the "Do you sodomize your wife?" question could provide its own form of entertainment...
9.25.2006 12:57am
Justin (mail):
NYU2 - if there was an open question and answer session (something I doubt), then I'd imagine yes, as Columbia's gay community is very active and not altogether thrilled with those sort of things.

Really, the sort of presumptions you have about the very heterogeneous set of people who you diagree with is remarkable, both for its sheer failure to give even the most basic credit to their intellect and morals as for its contemptuous treatment of that group as somehow beneath legitimate discourse.
9.25.2006 1:09am
Anderson (mail) (www):
I look forward to Columbia's declining to allow George W. Bush to address its students, on the grounds of his avowed support for interrogation methods that violate U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions.
9.25.2006 1:34am
Revonna LaShatze:
Why not let the guy talk? The more information you can gain from him, the better. Hitler talked, and wrote, freely, and we could have learned from it.

He's in a position of influence, and we can't fear him influencing positively our own people.

The reputation thing only works if you have a crowd calling for banning speakers like him. Lose the taboo, and the reputation doesn't suffer. Schools sponsoring other, only slightly controversial, speakers make it clear they are not endorsing the views, only providing the platform that gives the audience the benefit of listening, evaluating, and rejecting, if need be.

Aren't you really giving this man even more power by saying, this one -- we can't have you hearing him. Or will more bans like this one follow, as we begin to judge similarly? Not trying to provoke on this one, it just honestly seems inconsistent to me.

What if, in years to come, we find it would have been better to have listened to his words -- maybe getting a better idea of his plans -- and perhaps (it's the optimist in me) finding the one sliver that might allow us to proceed more logically with the man and his countrymen? I think the former is likely to be more valuable, fwiw. And I'm not saying, we should listen to him to be convinced. (Is that the danger you fear that I'm missing?) Just, like a cop would never take away the opportunity to let someone reveal themselves through talk (hey--like blog commenters), information gathering can be valuable now or later based on how much you let him go, and how tight he plays his hand.
9.25.2006 1:36am
Harry Eagar (mail):
The distinction between not allowing him into the World Leaders forum and allowing him into a university department hall is too subtle for a poor ole redneck like me.

I'd say Bollinger managed to make the worst possible decision. If Columbia stands for anything in the realm of public discourse, I couldn't guess what it would be.
9.25.2006 2:03am
Randy R. (mail):
I think bloggers here were all in favor of free speech! I thought people here were the ones who were always upset when a conservative person is shouted down, or refused entry on a college campus.

Now comes this guy, and some of you are all in favor of punting him.

So what: Speeches on campus should only be limited to those with whom you agree? Isn't that exactly what you have complained about liberals doing for years? Sheesh, at least be consistent....

For myself, I think more speech is better than less. If the guys an idiot, then it will become apparent. Let the press print his speech, and let everyone chime in with their disagreements, opinions, whatever. Collectively, we come out better.

Oh, and by the way, there was a vigil here in Washington, DC recently for the two gay teenagers who were hanged in Iran last year. Didn't get any press coverage, of course because who cares about gay teenagers in Iran? But I'm sure many of my colleagues would have been there at the speech protesting Iran's treatment of gays. Heck, at least it would have been an opportunity to educate people on the treatment of gays in Iran.
9.25.2006 2:32am
Revonna LaShatze:

Who would come in under "cultural icon", not intellectual?

What other "World Leaders" have addressed, or are scheduled, to address this "Forum"?

Like Harry, I'm afraid the distinction is just too subtle to accept at first glance. This seems to lump too easily with criticism against the elite left for promoting speech codes and anti-pc talk to the point where you aren't supposed to talk freely about some of the most important and non trivial subjects. Fuck that.
9.25.2006 3:40am
Public_Defender (mail):
Ahmadinejad is not some random nut who would benefit from a Columbia University Platform--he is a dangerous demagogue. His words need to be heard so that more people can understand that that he's not reviled because he's a mere critic of Isreal or the U.S. When they hear his words, they can hear for themselves that he's a dangerously powerful anti-semite on a mission.

Professor Bernstein is doing Ahmadinejad a favor by campaigning to keep Americans from hearing Ahmadinejad's words first hand.
9.25.2006 4:47am
jgshapiro (mail):

So what: Speeches on campus should only be limited to those with whom you agree? Isn't that exactly what you have complained about liberals doing for years? Sheesh, at least be consistent....

I don't think anyone is arguing the point you attack. It is a straw man.

The question is, as Dershowitz suggested, whether there is some minimum standard for speakers to be invited, or whether anyone can speak at any time regardless of their worldview. If there is a minimum standard, it should be articulated so that it is applied without discrimination. If there is instead an open forum, they should just say so.

The problem here is that, like most (all?) universities, Columbia never has had an open forum. If you believe otherwise, ask yourself, would they allow the Grand Dragon of the KKK to speak? What about Fred Phelps? Augusto Pinochet? [Fill in the blank here] So long as they are willing to stop any speaker from coming, they need to articulate why Ahmadinejad would be ok, but the alternative speaker would not be ok.

The issue here is that its hard to imagine Ms. Anderson claiming that anyone can speak at her forum or at her school, regardless of their views, but then again it's hard to imagine a test Ahmadinejad could pass that others she would likely exclude would fail. That leds to the conclusion that she doesn't think his views are that bad.
9.25.2006 6:46am
How much would the event cost, and who would pay? I imagine that most speakers don't cost a university much, but that an event like this would cost a small fortune in extra security, metal detectors, and the like. I imagine that the internal university politics were really about budget, with the head of the university declining to pay out of general funds but permitting a department head to use departmental funds if she wanted to.

But I suspect that the students paying tuition and the alumni who donate are the ones who really pay. And I definitely see the problem in forcing them to provide a forum for something like this. Universities are going too far in the think tank direction as it is, and I'd like to see them pull back a little from politics to concentrate more on, well, actual research and teaching. And I think this criticism is all the more important when the political speaker in question is a lunatic. Why should students have to fund such a thing as a condition for getting the degrees they need to move forward in life? Maybe tuition would be lower if universities didn't waste their money on this stuff.
9.25.2006 9:38am
U.Va. 2L (mail):
I'm disappointed in both Bollinger and Columbia. People need to hear him for themselves to understand how dangerous he is. It's much harder to believe portraits of him as a harmless (or perhaps even sympathetic) figure when get it straight from the horse's mouth.
9.25.2006 9:47am
Revonna LaSchatze:

It didn't hurt -- just a bit? -- to write this:
"In general, I agree with Alan Dershowitz"

AC: Check this out
9.25.2006 9:51am
Columbia would NEVER, NEVER, NEVER invite an avowed racist or KKK leader to speak.

But it's perfectly OK to invite someone who avows to annihilate Jews.
9.25.2006 9:58am
Thanks, Revonna. This is the sort of thing (student activity fees) that made me think of my argument about funding controversial speakers, but I think the speaker case is much more important because:

1) Student activities are at least targeted towards the students, whereas I think big-time speakers are often invited because the faculty want them; and

2) Neither gays nor Christians (I consider myself to be both, and both have people trying to defund them at various schools) irritate me as much as the current government of Iran. I don't think they like gays OR Christians very much.

(On the fee issue, which is a side topic, I don't object to a small activity fee, but I would leave out ALL affinity groups. Fund actual activities, like choir and sports (even people who don't participate actively can go to the concerts and the games), but let social and political groups raise their own money. That way students themselves, rather than student government or the university administration, can decide which groups to fund and to what extent. Also, as an aside to my aside, one of the most interesting things I learned in college was how to set up funding for an organization. Money for nothing keeps students from learning this valuable lesson.)
9.25.2006 11:25am
llamasex (mail) (www):
Harvard had the Time Cube guy come speak.
9.25.2006 11:41am
Jimmy (mail):
I made the same point in the earlier Columbia / Ahmed posts - let him speak, because it shows how much of a dummy he is. When he gets to hide behind a PR machine, it makes his views harder to attribute to him directly. I love my country because it helps to expose hypocrites like Ahmed and Bush - give them MORE microphone time! Reagan &his policies were just as destructive and vile as Bush's, but he was the master of the microphone, just as Clinton was. Ahmed and Bush clearly are not, so why not give them more rope to hang themselves with?
9.25.2006 12:13pm
Kierkegaard (mail):
Those asking Columbia whether they ever allow conservative speakers on campus might just want to look at last year's commencement address given by John McCain. Or when John Ashcroft appeared on campus last year. Or when former justice O'Conner came to the Barnard campus two years ago.
9.25.2006 12:26pm
GMUSL 3L (mail):
There are certainly reasonable arguments over whether McCain and "O'Conner" [sic.] are conservatives.

Additionally, as somebody who was at Columbia from 2002-04, there were at least 10 FAR-left speakers on campus for every 1 on the center-right.
9.25.2006 12:34pm
Randy R. (mail):
Certain minimum standards should apply? How about this one: If you are the duly elected soveriegn leader of a foreign country, that should qualify you enough to be able to speak on a college campus. the fact that you are a head of state means that you are a player upon the world stage, and your voice, repulsive though it may be, is an important one. Presumably, it represents the views of the country he or she represents. To stifle that voice is to stifle the voice of an entire country.

How do we benefit by stifling that voice? Seems to me better to give it a full airing and let everyone else decide for themselves.

I agree there should be some minimum standards, as you just don't want a local yokel spouting off on the KKK or something. But college speach departments usually book people 'of name" rather than just a nobody. There are already minimum standards in place.
9.25.2006 12:41pm
wb (mail):

Like it or not Iran must be exploited as a stabilizing factor in the Middle East. Any openings of dialog are useful, despite the abhorance of many of the views esposed by the elected leader of Iran. Columbia is certainly within its rights to offer or deny a platform. But the reasoning esposed here for denying that platform is just what is driving US foreign policy into a corner that is bound to weaken our economy, our status in the world, and any prospects for a stable middle east
9.25.2006 12:50pm
Ken Arromdee:
For myself, I think more speech is better than less. If the guys an idiot, then it will become apparent. Let the press print his speech, and let everyone chime in with their disagreements, opinions, whatever. Collectively, we come out better.

This strikes me as wishful thinking. There's so much good evidence and testimony about the Holocaust, and there's so little against it, that anyone who is not convinced already won't be convinced just because someone stood up and gave a well-reasoned, persuasive, speech about it.

It really isn't a *disagreement*. No rational person debates the subject.
9.25.2006 12:52pm
Luke 1152 (mail):
So the purpose of a university is to expose its students to the "correct" views and exclude other views, eh?

How fuc*ing sad.
9.25.2006 1:31pm
Justin (mail):
Ken, the idea that Ahmadinejad would come to speak about the holocaust and why he believes it didn't exist strikes me as preposterous. I think he's only ever mentioned the topic in the context of fervered political speeches that were generally antisemetic and to a mass of fairly antisemetic voters.

Speaking at Columbia, he's not likely to say much that I would agree with (except maybe that Bush = bad, but for decidedly different reasons), but I doubt he planned on using the forum for such a topic.
9.25.2006 1:33pm
Kierkegaard (mail):
GMUSL 3L- You may be right about their being a heavy ratio of lefty to right speakers. What is ironic, however, is that I remember with much more clarity all of the times right-winged speakers came to talk, because I would see protest posters all of the library and reports of protests in the daily newspaper. So it could be true that perhaps my memory is skewed by this bizarre consequence that leads to the right-winged speakers being the ones that have seemed notable to me when I was at Columbia; probably the exact opposite intention of what the protestors originally had in mind.
9.25.2006 1:36pm
Given their general hostility toward's colleges and current higher education, would conservative speakers even accept invitations to speak on campuses at the same rate as liberal speakers?

How much is deliberate exclusion of conservative viewpoints by college administrations (which I do not deny happens), and how much is a general right-wing mindset that they don't want to speak on campuses?
9.25.2006 2:14pm
Justin (mail):
I never saw a protester at a FedSoc speaker, at least not with signs and all. A few Qunan (anti-Israel, and I mean that in the actual sense, not as a metaphor for pro-Palestinian) people went to a Koleinu (which ranged from pro-Israel to anti-Palestinian to pro-Bush) speaker to ask tough questions in order to embarasss them and vice versa, but that was all.
9.25.2006 2:20pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
Ahmadinejad is about as conservative as they get.
Save that Iran is organized economically along state socialist lines with only small scale private enterprises allowed.
9.25.2006 2:20pm
Nobody here is addressing my main point, which is who pays and who decides. A related question is why universities are in the business of having foreign leaders come to speak at all. We have political institutions like Congress and the UN for political grandstanding. Do we need this sort of thing at universities? I don't see the point -- speeches by people who study the Iranian regime (regardless of viewpoint) would be more appropriate in an academic setting.

(Okay, so Churchill gave the "Iron Curtain speech at a college. But he was also a published historian, and he was getting an honorary degree at the time. I don't think either of those factors applies here. And can't we just imagine the fun if anyone offered an honorary degree to Ahmadinejad?)

Somebody please start up a thread on politicians who hide in academia while their parties are out of power. That's another of my pet peeves. It's not what universities are for, and I think it's an obstacle to people who actually want to pursue education and research in institutions that were founded for that purpose.
9.25.2006 2:44pm
Ken Arromdee:
Ken, the idea that Ahmadinejad would come to speak about the holocaust and why he believes it didn't exist strikes me as preposterous.

Wghat I was responding to was a claim that the disagreements with him are valuable. Regarldess of what he himself says at this speech, it's a pretty safe bet that this will be one of the main themes of the disagreements.
9.25.2006 2:55pm
Revonna LaSchatze:
Did he deny it took place? I thought he said it was being overplayed today to explain away other policies.

I thought he said Germany or Europe should have tried harder after WWII to create a Jewish homeland, instead of trying to settle in the Middle East, with its different culture. Something about European guilt.

When he says "wipe Israel from the map", I thought he meant regain territory more than a plot, like Hitler, to systematically kill off Jews. That there are still Iranian Jews, who are not reportedly wearing badges identifying them -- could you imagine if someone spread that one erroneously? -- supports this.

My point is: the less you let someone speak directly, the more you interpret and tell us what he said, the more doubt is created out there. It's not good no matter the speaker. Let him be freely questioned and expound on his views. I'd hate to think we need doubt or misunderstanding to fight our enemies
9.25.2006 2:58pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Just a clarification: while much of the debate inthis thread has been about whether Ahmed should be invited/allowed to speak at Columbia, my post is about whether he should be invited BY Columbia, and whether Columbia, if it announces criteria for a particular lecture series, should simply actually consider adhering to them. While I wouldn't invite him to speak at my campus, I don't think a university president should intervene if a student group invites him, UNLESS the university president has intervened against other speakers who have engaged in similarly hateful speech.
9.25.2006 3:00pm
Jimmy (mail):
David, I see your point, but it looks like Bollinger stepped in to save Dean Anderson face from the backlash, and she accepted this with the cop-out security excuse. He said that the prez could speak, but just not at the special forum. Then Anderson said that security was a problem? Cmon. That was a three-card-monte game they pulled to try and limit the PR damage.
9.25.2006 3:05pm
Revonna LaSchatze:
In a speech given on 14 December 2005 in the city of Zahedan, and carried live on Iranian television, Ahmadinejad reportedly made the following comments:

According to the Iran's official news agency:

If the Europeans are telling the truth in their claim that they have killed six million Jews in the Holocaust during the World War II - which seems they are right in their claim because they insist on it and arrest and imprison those who oppose it, why should the Palestinian nation pay for the crime. Why have they come to the very heart of the Islamic world and are committing crimes against the dear Palestine using their bombs, rockets, missiles and sanctions. [...] The same European countries have imposed the illegally-established Zionist regime on the oppressed nation of Palestine. If you have committed the crimes so give a piece of your land somewhere in Europe or America and Canada or Alaska to them to set up their own state there. Then the Iranian nation will have no objections, will stage no rallies on the Qods Day and will support your decision.[44]

According to United States media:

They have invented a myth that Jews were massacred and place this above God, religions and the prophets. The West has given more significance to the myth of the genocide of the Jews, even more significant than God, religion, and the prophets, (it) deals very severely with those who deny this myth but does not do anything to those who deny God, religion, and the prophet. If you have burned the Jews, why don't you give a piece of Europe, the United States, Canada or Alaska to Israel? Our question is, if you have committed this huge crime, why should the innocent nation of Palestine pay for this crime?

In a press conference in Tehran on April 24, 2006 [52], Ahmadinejad declared that "Israel can ultimately not continue its existence" and said:

Anti-Semitism in Europe has forced Jews to leave their countries of origin, but what they did instead was occupy a country which is not theirs but that of Palestinians. We are sorry for any human being killed in the two world wars. We respect Moses as we respect Jesus, but it is just unacceptable that the Palestinians should suffer from the aftermath

He's not your standard Holocaust denier; that might be the scariest part, why he's worth listening to.
9.25.2006 3:07pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
P.S. This myth about Iranian Jews being so well-treated has reached the status of the great universal health care in Cuba. The vast majority of Iranian Jews who remained after the revolution have quietly been smuggled out/smuggled themselves out to Israel or the U.S., though this doesn't show up in "official" Iranian statistics, nor do their supporters want to draw attention the smuggling.

And, Revonna, (a) there are six million or so Jews in Israel, so wiping it off the map violently, especially by a nuclear Iran, would be, shall we say, unpleasant to the Jews involved; and (b) you obviously haven't been following his remarks and actions on the Holocaust, which have included holding a conference on whether the Holocaust, as normally understood, happened.
9.25.2006 3:07pm
Revonna LaSchatze:

I think we cross posted.
9.25.2006 3:08pm
Revonna LaSchatze:
"so wiping it off the map violently, especially by a nuclear Iran, would be, shall we say, unpleasant to the Jews involved"

And for the record,
I suspect there'd be a hell of a lot of non-Jews adversely affected too.

The whole world has something at stake, and should be thinking and listening. It's not just a Jewish concern.
9.25.2006 3:13pm
Of course, no one would have a problem with Bollinger's comment that "Mr. Ahmadinejad could speak at the school of international and public affairs, just not as a part of the university-wide leader's forum." It's the speaking at the LEADER'S FORUM that's the problem, right?

Sadly no. This post, like so many others from DB, simply demonstrates his desire to stifle speech, partuclarly when it is negative (even insanely negative) toward Israel. For anyone who saw the 60 Min interview of Ahmadinejad, it was quite easy to see his deranged mind at work. I would think that letting bright Columbia students hear that would go far in formulating intelligent opinions about Iran and the US foreign policy in the ME.

Too bad. Opportunity lost.
9.25.2006 3:17pm
Anonymous Reader:

Those who say the world should hear "straight from the horses mouth" what Ahmadinejad would say just aren't thinking straight. Again, the assumption would be that he would speak honestly.

I think he would say all sorts of things that would make him look/seem like a good guy. People who are expert manipulators can say things and make you think "see... he's not that bad..." Didn't Sadaam get like 99% of the vote during his "election"? Maybe since he was "duly elected" he should get a chance to address Columbia.

Anonymous Reader
9.25.2006 3:25pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
And a relevant aside: Anyone want to take bets on whether Dean Anderson ever invited Ariel Sharon to speak in this series on the many occasions he was in NYC while prime minister?
9.25.2006 3:33pm
Randy R. (mail):
I would love to see a list from any of you of speakers who you deem too dangerous to listen to. A list of people for whom free speech does not apply, because if students were to hear what they had to say, they might actually believe it, and that would be bad.

We can start with the President of Iran. Any others?
9.25.2006 4:11pm
I'll ask the same question about Ariel Sharon that I asked (indirectly) about Ahmadinejad -- does his background include any kind of scholarly or literary achievement that would have made him a good speaker in an ACADEMIC setting? Everybody here is writing as if the purpose of a university is to expose its students to current events, but I disagree. We have other institutions for that.

Maybe this gets back to the original "standards" question. Is being a political leader, without anything more, sufficient to entitle a person to address an academic community? I say no. Now, we could make the debate a lot more interesting by adding a hypothetical scenario about a serious Islamic scholar with views similar to the ones Ahmadinejad supposedly holds. THEN the discussion would get interesting.
9.25.2006 4:16pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
A.C., I'm not saying that Columbia should invite Sharon, I'm just wondering whether "neutral" standards are used.
9.25.2006 4:22pm
Pantapon Rose (mail):
Actually, it was the English section of the website of IRNA, the Islamic Republic News Agency, that first used the translation that Israel should be wiped off the map. It was leftist intellectuals in the West that disputed the IRNA's translation:

From the NYT:
If Steele and Cole are right, not one word of the quotation - Israel should be wiped off the map - is accurate.

But translators in Tehran who work for the president's office and the Foreign Ministry disagree with them. All official translations of Ahmadinejad's statement, including a description of it on his Web site,, refer to wiping Israel away.

Sohrab Mahdavi, one of the most prominent Iranian translators, and Siamak Namazi, managing director of a Tehran consulting firm, who is bilingual, both say "wipe off" or "wipe away" is more accurate than "vanish" because the Persian verb is active and transitive.

The second translation issue concerns the word "map." Khomeini's words were abstract: "Sahneh roozgar." Sahneh means scene or stage, and roozgar means time. The phrase was widely interpreted as "map," and for years, no one objected.
9.25.2006 4:35pm
DavidBernstein -

If you reject both Sharon and Ahmadinejad because they aren't academics or cultural figures, that could be a neutral standard. I'd also call it a step in the right direction.

Does that mean never talking about the Middle East in an academic setting? Of course not, but universities are the place for ACADEMIC debates about the Middle East. That is to say, debates among scholars who follow certain rules about how ideas are presented and discussed. Delivering political speeches is a different activity, best done elsewhere.

(It's not as though this society is short of places to spout off, and indeed Ahmadinejad has just made the rounds and said his piece.)
9.25.2006 5:05pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Ahmadinejad is not some random nut who would benefit from a Columbia University Platform--he is a dangerous demagogue. His words need to be heard so that more people can understand that that he's not reviled because he's a mere critic of Isreal or the U.S. When they hear his words, they can hear for themselves that he's a dangerously powerful anti-semite on a mission.
His words need to be heard? Fine. Haven't they been? Hasn't the news media quoted him, printed his speeches, etc.? Has anybody argued that the news media should not quote Ahmadinejad's words? (After all, how could Juan Cole misrepresent them if he wasn't allowed to hear them?) Doesn't he make speeches all the time? Is it likely that anybody who would go to Columbia to hear him speak would be someone who isn't familiar with him already?

This wouldn't be about whether to hear his words. It's about whether to honor him by inviting him to speak at a prestigious forum.

There's nothing wrong with the principle that it's worthwhile to hear people speak in order to learn about their views; it's just a phony claim as applied here. Nobody is going to learn about his views. For the titillation of hearing them in person, maybe.
9.25.2006 5:13pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
For pete's sake, A.C., even at Cow College we had speakers who were not academics. They were people who had done stuff in, like, you know, the real world. It was probably a good thing to have been exposed to one or two of them.

David M., the question of whether (and where) Ahmedinijad needs 'to be heard' is complicated.

Nothing I know he has said is new or different from what other participants in the Iranian Revolution have always said. I have previously, on the subject of wiping out Israel, noted that Geraldine Brooks (in 'Nine Parts of Desire') quoted another revolutionary to the exact same effect. Who paid attention then, in 1994?

Ahmedinijad for some reason -- perhaps being elected to the presidency in probably the most popular election ever staged in the Muslim world -- has caught the attention of reporters and pundits. To that extent, giving him forums and further publicizing his views is valuable, if it alerts a sleeping world to enemies who want us dead. It's not just him. Iran is full of Ahmedinijads.

On the other hand, it's pretty obvious that Ahmedinijad has also become a poster boy for people who hate American/western values.

Who knows what Anderson's motives for the invitation were? To give a boost to an antiwestern ideology? Perhaps.

Even that would have a purpose, a despicable one, but a purpose.

Academic scalp-collecting by elite universities is an unlovely sport, though. I never heard of Columbia's World Leaders forum before, cannot name any leaders who spoke there or identify any international policies they advocated or attacked. To some extent, Bollinger is the victim of a drive-by media shooting. But his performance nevertheless extracted the maximum of stupidity from the situation.
9.25.2006 5:43pm
Anonymous Reader:
Well, if the criteria for a world leader is his/her popularity, they might as well invite Michael Jackson or Madonna. Has the Pope ever been invited? Those are the types of questions that need to be asked. Sure, I've never heard of this program before either, but that doesn't mean I can't have an opinion on the people who should be given that type of platform and prominence.

Anonymous Reader
9.25.2006 6:43pm
Public_Defender (mail):
There seems to be a question about whether Columbia would be raising Ahmadinejad's stature by letting him speak. I think it would hurt him. Letting him speak would allow Jewish, gay and other groups to show Ahmadinejad for what he is.

This is not some random nut who would gain stature by talking at a university. For better or worse, he is already world leader with a lot of power to cause tremendous suffering. He's already got the stature.

Instead of banning him, why not have him introduced by Jewish and gay students, with specific questions about how he treats gays and Jews? I think it would be a useful reality check on some of the nuttier views of some of my colleagues on the anti-Israeli Left.

And no, David M. Nieporent, I don't think enough people have heard what this guy has to say. If nothing else, Revonna's post shows why students need to here this guy.

Why do some of you think letting him speak would help him? Either he's well known as a dangerous bigot or he is not. If he is, then letting him spout his bigotry won't help him. If he is not, then people need to hear how brutal this thug really is.

And yes, David Bernstein, Columbia should have invited Sharon.
9.25.2006 7:18pm
"And a relevant aside: Anyone want to take bets on whether Dean Anderson ever invited Ariel Sharon to speak in this series on the many occasions he was in NYC while prime minister?"

So the failure to invite Sharon is reason to ban Ahmadinejad? Or is this an unspoken charge of anti-semitism on the part of the dean? Has the dean ever invted Bill Cosby?
9.25.2006 7:21pm
Revonna LaShatze:
Speaking of,
why are they keeping Ariel Sharon's body alive?
9.25.2006 9:49pm
To Harry Eagar --

I have no problem with having "real world" types speak at colleges, but the question is the speech. Is it an analytical speech about how the real world works, or is it purely polemical? And what is the motivation of the university in inviting such a person, furthering academic discourse or the "scalp-collecting" you seem to dislike as much as I do?

As far as I know, Ahmadinejad is pure politician and has nothing to add to any academic discussion of the Iranian regime. The only reason to have him is to generate a speech that could be a primary source for further academic work, and that might be a legitimate justification if he had not made a bunch of speeches in other venues already. Because he has (the guy is NOT obscure), I tend to think that it's all about the "scalp-collecting" thing, or perhaps the "titillation" thing that someone else mentioned. That being the case, I would be angry as hell if my tuition were paying for such an event.

Note that prestige has nothing to do with my argument. You could make the same one at Cow College or at any other school. My problem is with universities that depart from their main organizational missions, often (but not always) to chase prestige rather than to bestow it. I think this sort of thing shortchanges the primary customers of educational institutions -- that's all.
9.26.2006 10:33am
Harry Eagar (mail):
Do you apply all that to commencement speakers, too?

Few colleges would come away unsullied if you did.
9.26.2006 3:23pm
Public_Defender (mail):
Harry Eagar,

Political leaders are directly relevant to political science students, even if the leaders don't give academic speeches.
9.27.2006 5:55am
Harry Eagar (mail):
This 'debate' seems to be very much over intentions rather than facts.

I doubt anybody thinks a president of Iran -- if not Ahmedinijad -- could properly be invited to speak at Columbia or BY Columbia.

The question here is, can you invite Ahmadinijad without seeming to endorse his views in some way?

That question sort of answers that other question, shouldn't we invite him in order to let him expose his disgusting positions. All us sophisticates already understand his positions to be reprehensible. (Well, almost all.) So, if it let him speak, Columbia would be performing a public service for -- for whom? I'm not sure. Are there students and faculty at Columbia whose opinions about Ahmedinijad's policies remain unsettled?

I am not sure about the motivation of the professor, though I have been given reason to be dubious about her. The university president seems to be like the porridgebird who lays his egg in the air. He could have come down on any of several principles but chose to avoid any and all of them.
9.27.2006 4:56pm