Monday, September 24, 2007
Columbia University: A Needless Blunder
At first I found myself cheering Columbia University President Lee Bollinger's "introduction" to the infamous speech by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday. I have no great love for this nasty little man, and I think Bollinger had it right when he lectured the Iranian President for exhibiting"all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator,” and accused him, for good measure, of being "either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated."
Before Bollinger's introduction ended, though, I was already feeling uncomfortable. The one quality I respect--no, respect is not quite the word: "acknowledge" would be better--in Ahmadinejad would be his sharply cunning mind, and I began to suspect how Bollinger's remarks could easily be turned to his advantage; how the scold could be used to provoke Ahmadinejad's real audience--the Arab world--to further hostility and rage. It is, after all, widely known that hospitality is considered an essential courtesy in that world, and Bollinger's words were among the least hospitable I have ever heard. They were nothing less than a public dressing-down, a humiliation calculated to infuriate those in Ahmadinejad's world who already feel humiliated, and who resent what they see to be the bully tactics and the lecturing posture of America in the world.
Sure enough, the ever-cunning Ahmadinejad took pains to point out, astutely enough, that there was something of a contradiction inherent in preaching the ideals of liberty and freedom of speech while castigating another's before he has had the chance to utter a word. Had Bollinger restrained the impulse to use his introduction to somehow justify what was clearly a wildly controversial decision by his university by loading the dice in advance, Ahmadinejad would have done the hatchet job nicely on himself. The mendacity and absurdity of much of what he said was summed up in that wonderful moment when he claimed, with a smile of icy determination on his face, that there were "no homosexuals" in his country--a remark that got the derisive laugh it deserved and marked the Iranian President for the lying martinet that Bollinger had prematurely described.
People do tend to reveal themselves, even while they lie. It would have been wiser, in my view, to allow Ahmadinejad the privilege of condemning himself in his own words.
But, please... As a healthy antidote to all this nonsense, I came upon this wonderful post in Robin's Karma. Please check it out. For me, it is Buddhism in a nutshell. Thanks, Robin, for drawing my attention to this teaching.
UPDATE: Here's what an LGBT blog had to say about Ahmadinejad's remarks.