Tim Rutten looks at the arguments from Lee Bollinger’s apologists and finds them unconvincing. Reaching back to Columbia University’s earlier support for fascists, Rutten scores the win for Ahmadinejad for his appearance at the Ivy League academy, and scolds Columbia for giving Ahmadinejad the Western legitimacy he craved (via Memeorandum):
It would be interesting to know if any consideration of these events — and all that followed a decade of engagement and dialogue with fascism — occurred before Columbia extended a speaking invitation to a man who hopes to see Israel “wiped off the face of the Earth,” has denied the Holocaust and is defying the world community in pursuit of nuclear weapons. Perhaps they did and perhaps that’s part of what motivated Lee Bollinger, Columbia’s president now, to deliver his extraordinarily ill-advised welcoming remarks to Ahmadinejad.
Bollinger clearly had an American audience in mind when he denounced the Iranian leader to his face as a “cruel” and “petty dictator” and described his Holocaust denial as designed to “fool the illiterate and the ignorant.” Bollinger’s remarks may have taken him off the hook with his domestic critics, but when it came to the international media audience that really counted, Ahmadinejad already had carried the day. The invitation to speak at Columbia already had given him something totalitarian demagogues — who are as image-conscious as Hollywood stars — always crave: legitimacy. Bollinger’s denunciation was icing on the cake, because the constituency the Iranian leader cares about is scattered across an Islamic world that values hospitality and its courtesies as core social virtues. To that audience, Bollinger looked stunningly ill-mannered; Ahmadinejad dignified and restrained.
Back in Tehran, Mohsen Mirdamadi, a leading Iranian reformer and Ahmadinejad opponent, said Bollinger’s blistering remarks “only strengthened” the president back home and “made his radical supporters more determined,” According to an Associated Press report, “Many Iranians found the comments insulting, particularly because in Iranian traditions of hospitality, a host should be polite to a guest, no matter what he thinks of him. To many, Ahmadinejad looked like the victim, and hard-liners praised the president’s calm demeanor during the event, saying Bollinger was spouting a ‘Zionist’ line.”
Rutten and the Los Angeles Times hardly qualify as conservative mouthpieces. Rutten makes a devastating argument against the notion of engagement with oppressive tyrants, or in this case, their mouthpieces. He notes that tyrannies base themselves on will, not intellectual argument, for their use of power. Intellectual challenge does nothing to deflect them from their courses of action — but it does provide an excuse for inaction from free peoples who should know better.
He particularly scolds the media for failing to report properly on Ahmadinejad. The media played up the Bush administration’s various efforts to contain and confront Iran, but managed to play down the irrational messianic nature of the mullahcracy, and Ahmadinejad’s role in it.
Be sure to read the entire essay.