Just came from the Columbia campus, where a shocking number of my classmates skipped out on discussion section to go watch the show. In the SIPA lobby I joined a hundred and some other people watching Bollinger on closed circuit TV. There was a certain amount of cheering as he made his hard hitting points. A few students seemed to think that he was redeeming himself. About half the room burst into spontaneous applause when he finished. I personally did not. I thought that he was being a tough guy — even though I liked the content of the rhetoric — to compensate for what he had done by inviting Ahmadinajad.
When A’jad began by complaining that basic Iranian manners precluded inviting a guest then lecturing him harshly, to inoculate yourself from press criticism, I did NOT join the other half of the students, who burst into spontaneous applause and cheering. But I thought A’jad won that round against Bollinger — who needs a haircut.
I got a little bored during the science and technology part of the blather and wandered across Amsterdam Avenue over to the well guarded main campus. The place was littered with placards showing pictures of (apparently nonexistent) Iranian Homosexuals with stripes from lashing down their naked backs; a 17 year old girl hanging for killing one of her three rapists; lists of children who had been put to death. The lower green was chock full of students watching the speech on a large screen TV that had been set up outside. Many were watching, though many were basking in the clear, lovely sunshine. It is rare to see so much Edmund Burke quoted at that school — but the “all that it takes for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” was posted frequently, and worn on t-shirts made for the occasion. I guess they were made by campus Hillel.
Out on Broadway all the usual suspects were massed, blocking any pedestrian traffic. There were a bunch of Noturei Karta Hassidim carrying anti-Zionism signs. There were tons of people wearing buttons saying “Ahmadinejad is NOT welcome,” and there were a handful of pro-A’jad people. And, of course, random older guys (mostly) protesting the war in Iraq and George Bush. Duh. What’s a protest for.
Here is the difference between this mass gathering, including the protests, and those of my youth: no one was smoking dope, and precious few were having any kind of good time. In general that’s a good sign, if it means that these kids know that the stakes are higher for them — and all of us — now than they were when people gathered to levitate the Pentagon.