Columbia Did The Right Thing

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[Black Star News Editorial]

What’s the use of having a university if leaders such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other contrarians can’t be invited and challenged by the academic community? Why have universities at all?

Like it or not, Ahmadinejad is the president of Iran, and judging by the attendance at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs where he spoke Monday, students and professors wanted to hear him respond to questions challenging many of the contrarian positions he holds and advocates.

If many people find the Iranian’s positions repugnant – such as his call for the elimination of Israel in the Middle East, his questioning of the Jewish Holocaust, his coddling of racists such as David Duke whom he allowed to attend the conference to re-examine the Jewish Holocaust in Tehran – then what better place to have him publicly challenged than in one of the country’s premier institutions of higher learning?

While the Iranian does have considerable global support for seeming to standing up and challenging U.S. hegemony, back in his country his own political party’s poor showing in recent local elections suggest that in his country following is waning because he does not accord the same rights he was afforded with Columbia’s invitation: students in Iran and the opposition are muzzled.

It was also through the Columbia invitation that he was exposed as disingenuous when responding to a question about Iran he said: “We don’t have homosexuals like in your country---In Iran we don’t have this phenomenon.” So, in essence, Ahmadinejad has only read about homosexuals and never encountered any in Iran: when in fact some have been executed, a punishment which, regardless of one’s views on homosexuals is beyond the pale.

Some of the attacks against Columbia come from the usual suspects, such as right wing Republicans and these can be dismissed—they are still waging a personal war against Columbia President Lee Bollinger who has supported the correction of historical racism in school admission programs since his days as President of the University of Michigan.

Then there were opportunists such as career politicians State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver who even hinted, foolishly, that the state might not favorably view capital support for Columbia’s projects. Hillary Clinton, sadly, an intellectual and yet ever the politician who bends with the wind, also criticized Ahmadinejad’s invitation by Dr. Lee Bollinger.

The attacks against Bollinger are disingenuous because they imply that Columbia somehow endorses Ahmadinejad’s views, when in fact, those who criticize him know that to be the contrary as he made clear in his introductory remarks which many people actually think was overly harsh.

Even President Bush chimed in—he noted that he was “okay” with Ahmadinejad’s appearance at Columbia but that he was “not sure” he “would have offered the same invitation,” if he were Columbia's president. Thankfully, university presidents must still be learned and intellectuals.

Columbia University did the right thing—in fact, in future, other world leaders and contrarians such as North Korea’s "Dear Leader" Kim Jong, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Sudan’s President Hassan al Bashir, Uganda’s dictator Yoweri Museveni and Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, should also be invited so that they can be challenged by the Academy.

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