Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Must Read: Spat between Columbia president and Iranian president

"Too bad bin Laden is not available" read one of the fliers that was being passed around at the venue of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech at Columbia University. Many understandably criticised the university's decision to invite the Iranian president (given his hatred for the "zionist regime" and "support for terror"). Columbia president Lee Bollinger, who seemed almost apologetic about having him over, launched into a vigorous defence of the freedom to express. Using that as his shield, he attacked him and dug his knife deep into the president. Calling him a "petty and cruel dictator", Bollinger labelled the president as someone who's "either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated" because of his stance on the holocaust. "Will you cease this outrage," he asked the president, who was reportedly seated 10 feet away from him. (NYT reports Ahmadinejad wore a "frozen smile"!)

Bollinger's speech is stirring but only when it concerns individual liberties of scholars, journalists and other Iranians. He should have stayed clear of attacking the president on foreign and nuclear policy, where he questioned Ahmadinejad why Iran supported terror in Iraq against the US, funded terror elsewhere and why Iran refused to adhere to international nuclear rules. That put him on a weaker wicket given America's support for , shall we say, favourable or friendly terror in West Asia, Latin America and elsewhere. After all the US actively supported Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran that killed millions and the CIA fomented a coup to unseat Iran's only democratic government so far (that of Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953). Like Iran, America's foreign policy isn't immaculate.

The Columbia president, closing his remarks, even said he felt the president lacked the "intellectual courage" to answer his questions and prayed his performance at Columbia inspired enough Iranians to defeat his party electorally. His last words were: "I am only a professor, who is also a university president, and today I feel all the weight of the modern civilized world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for. I only wish I could do better."

Ahmadinejad came up next and questioned why the Bollinger had to "vaccinate" the students and faculty with his speech. Why cannot they make up their minds, the president asked? He then began with pointless philosophical rhetoric on God, Almighty, Adam, Allah, Mankind, etc. And he made a fool of himself when he insisted Iran did not have even a single homosexual and presented a hollow defence when questioned why Iran repressed its women. "It's not a crime to be a woman. Women are the best creatures created by God. They represent the kindness, the beauty that God instils in them. Women are respected in Iran. In Iran, every family who is given a girl, they are 10 times happier than having a son. Women are respected more than men are," he said. Yeah... Yeah... Whatever.

But I think he made a point, and his best one at that, when he asked why we should "close the books for good on a historical event". Why should "holocaust deniers" not have the freedom to express themselves and be imprisoned instead? Wonder what Bollinger's response to that would be? I wish some Indian university invited India's bete noire to come and speak to us. Would we do that? And who would it be?


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