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The Bronx cheer: Columbia University welcomes Iran's president

Published September 26, 2007 6:10 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

We were alternately proud and dismayed by the way Columbia University treated Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Proud that, in the name of free speech and unbridled academic inquiry, an American university would invite the president of a nation that President George Bush has labeled part of the "axis of evil" to speak. Dismayed that, because of criticism of that decision by Jewish activists, the university's president would find it politically necessary to insult his guest while introducing him.

Make no mistake. Ahmadinejad represents a regime that is hostile to the United States. We take at face value reports by the U.S. government that Iran is arming, training and advising militia forces in Iraq that have killed American troops.

We also are troubled that Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier, that he will not acknowledge that Israel has a right to exist, and that his nation is fighting a proxy war against Israel through its support of Hezbollah in Lebanon. That sponsorship is one reason why Iran's nuclear aspirations are frightening.

But we also share the Iraq Study Group's belief that if the United States is to extricate itself from Iraq and create a more peaceful and stable Middle East, the United States must talk to its enemies there. Iran and Syria are at the top of that list.

Diplomacy is both public and private. Though we do not expect any American to spare Ahmadinejad hard questioning, at some point, Americans and Iranians must get past shouting at and insulting each other.

In that context, consider the spectacle of Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger introducing Ahmadinejad as someone who exhibits "all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator," adding that, "You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated."

Ahmadinejad replied, "In Iran, tradition requires when you invite a person to be a speaker, we actually respect our students enough to allow them to make their own judgment, and don't think it's necessary before the speech is even given to come in with a series of complaints to provide vaccination to the students and faculty."

The Iranian president is popular at home and abroad for standing up to American boorishness and arrogance. Bollinger played right into his hands.




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