THE SPINE SEPTEMBER 24, 2007
In the circumstance of having allowed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be invited to speak at Columbia University, its president, Lee Bollinger, acquitted himself quite well in the reproaches he showered on the demonic madman who is president of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
"Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator," Bollinger said to applause from many of the 600 people in the room for a speech from the Iranian leader.
Bollinger cited the Iranian government's "brutal crackdown" on dissidents, public executions, executions of minors and other actions.
And he assailed Ahmadinejad's "denying" of the Holocaust as "ridiculous" and "dangerous propaganda." He called the Iranian leader either brazenly provocative "or astonishingly uneducated."
"The truth is that the Holocaust is the most documented event in human history," he said.
He said he doubted Ahmadinejad would show the intellectual courage to answer the questions before him.
All this being true, it is a distortion of everything basic to a true institution of higher learning. After all, not every idea deserves a hearing and not every person either. Would Mr. Bollinger have permitted an invitation, let's say, of Pol Pot, to speak at Columbia in an academic setting? Remember the killing fields. Here's the first big piece on Ahmadinejad's early labors as being analogous to the killings fields, published in TNR in April, 2006.
Apparently, one reason Bollinger disposed of Lisa Anderson as dean of the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs was that she got him into almost unimaginable troubles over inviting Ahmadinejad last year, an invitation he decided to cancel.
So he goes and appoints a Harvard Latin Americanist with zero comprehension of the Middle East, John Coatsworth, as Lisa's successor. (I know how narrow and petty she is; we taught in the same program at Harvard.) Except for his specialty, Coatsworth had all of her fingerprints. Or footprints, like the monstrous Big Foot.
He even signed the petition at Harvard to disinvest from Israel, and the Columbia's gang of Saidists were thrilled when the president bent to their will and made Coatsworth's appointment. Now Bollinger has a pail-full of agenda items about academic matters -- including promotions of people way off the scholarly map deep into falsehood -- and Coatsworth won't help him. Alas, Mr. Bollinger made his own bed.
For two pieces on Coatsworth, read here.