I was prepared to ascribe Lee Bollinger some credit for taking the unpopular stand of inviting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak and answer questions at Columbia University. Bollinger is an expert on free-speech -- and if you can't win hearts and minds by extending the freedom of speech to someone you despise (and who probably despises you), then when else can you?
But to invite someone to your 'house' and then make such insinuations about their character by assigning "all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator" to them is frankly entirely lacking in class. Either summon the courage to say that your guest is a dictator or deny them an invitation. This is perhaps the only time that I would fine myself in concert with Zionists and Republicans. As the Weekly Standard column by William Kristol states: "In fact, the introduction with "sharp challenges" by Bollinger makes the situation even more of a disgrace."
That Kristol sees Ahmadinejad's visit to Columbia as a "propaganda victory." Hmmm. Not sure which propaganda war we're talking about here. Pretty sure that whether Amhadinejad spoke at Columbia or not, few people's minds were changed about US foreign policy, international terrorism, the immutable facts of the Holocaust, and sadly probably not about Lee Bollinger, either. Kristol references Scott Johnson at PowerLine who concludes in his thoughts about the initial invitation for Ahmadinejad to speak: "And President Bollinger is a fool who is not excused from the dishonor he brings to his institution and his fellow citizens by the fact that he doesn't know what he is doing." Sadly, Scott was more correct than I would have imagined.
Ahmadinejad replied with far more grace in this instance, adding "In Iran, tradition demands that when we ask a person to be a speaker, we actually respect the students and the professors to allow them to make their own judgment."
On a related note: I found Roger Cohen's op-ed in the New York Times this morning far more poignant a pre-amble to President Ahmadinejad's visit than any of the blunders Bollinger staggered through.
In a different related note: Maybe Dan + Margaret were also around for this, but I was in Ann Arbor for graduate school and witnessed the infamous KKK rally of 1996. The city defended the Klansmen's right to free speech and agreed to host them on the steps of City Hall -- and protection of even the vilest human's right to speak cost the city $72,000 (presumably in police overtime and hazard pay). Now, would I rather have had $72,000 go to improving public school conditions, roads, or shelter for the homeless? Sure. But if we never dare to risk the challenge of the First Amendment, we'll be living in somewhere like Uzbekistan.
I don't know where Keshia Thomas is these days, but go here to see bravery the likes of which we hope our university leaders genuinely possess.