Columbia University Courageously Allows Iran President Ahmadinejad to Speak

Columbia University which has been under a vicious attack from radical extremists who wish to prevent debate over Israeli occupation of Palestine or even a discussion that would criticise Israel, is finally beginning to fight back. President Lee Bollinger, a former president and law school dean at the University of Michigan, has been bending under the winds of persecution from the David Project and other groups’s efforts to banish members of Columbia’s Middle East Asian Languages and Cultures Department. President Bollinger’s denunciation of Nicholas De Genova in 2003 was not helpful, yet this is clearly a reversal of course for the values progressive academicians hold dearly.

I was interviewed recently on Iranian television and it is nice to see an American university allowing Iranian senior officials to speak. We either communicate to each other or we find ourselves with more war and more needless human suffering. I think President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has offered some refreshing criticisms of the United Nations Security Council membership and has allowed an exhibit on the Holocaust to depict various interpretations. Artistic expression may infuriate but need not become a cause celebre of adjudigng a nation or condemning its license of speech. Of course his statement of the holocaust being a myth is egregious and his war of words with Israel needs to be toned down. Yet he is a rational actor, a keen student of international affairs, and someone that a great power such as the United States should engage directly in diplomacy as the Iraq Study Group recommended.

Hail to Columbia for its invitation and with such resoluteness for defending academic freedom and advancing the cause of peace and reconciliaton. How grand and courageous of you and how noble you are in setting a standard for higher education in this diminished democracy we are experiencing during wartime!!

September 20, 2007 The Chronicle of Higher Education

“Iranian President to Speak at Columbia U.”

Iran’s controversial president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in New York next week to address the United Nations, will not be allowed to visit Ground Zero — the site of the World Trade Center, leveled by Middle Eastern terrorists — but he will give a speech at another location in Manhattan that has been on the front lines of the debate over conflict in the Middle East: Columbia University.

Columbia’s president, Lee C. Bollinger, announced last night that President Ahmadinejad would speak and answer audience questions on Monday afternoon as part of the university’s World Leaders Forum. Mr. Bollinger said he would introduce the president by issuing “sharp challenges” to his denial of the Holocaust, stated goal of wiping Israel off the map, support for terrorism, defiance of sanctions stemming from Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and suppression of human rights and civil liberties.

The invitation to speak, postponed from a year ago, is part of Columbia’s mission to understand the world “as it is and as it might be,” Mr. Bollinger said, even if that means having to listen courteously to ideas that are “offensive and even odious.” He called for Mr. Ahmadinejad to be received with “the powers of dialogue and reason.”

That seems unlikely at Columbia, which has been a battleground over the conflicts in the Middle East, featuring a continuing tenure fight, attacks on books, outside pressure to fire scholars, fights over Middle East studies, and allegations of classroom bias, among others. As the protesters gear up for Monday’s fireworks, stay tuned. —Andrew Mytelka

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