The entire Ahmadinajad affair was just painful to watch, and I’ve never seen so much empty lip service paid to free speech and academic freedom. A few salient thoughts:
1. President Bollinger’s’ opening remarks could have been magnificent – in a different context. His indictment of the Iranian regime was honestly better and more eloquent than anything I’ve heard out of the Bush administration. I defy anyone even at NRO to have laid out the American case against Iran better and more succinctly. There’s one problem, however: that’s the speech he should have given to explain all the reasons why Columbia decided not to invite Ahmadinajad.
2. It was hard to take Bollinger’s words when he waxed eloquent about free speech. Make no mistake, the decision to invite Ahmadinajad was an expressive act by Columbia, but it was hardly an act in support of “free speech” or “academic freedom.” The university’s double standards are painful and obvious. Just check out FIRE’s “Spotlight” page for Columbia. I’m not sure that any other college or university has been embroiled in more high profile censorship issues in the last five years.
3. Jonah is one of my heroes (and a fellow fan of the greatest show on television), but I have to disagree with him. Ahmadinajad does know his audience. His speech can best be described as nearly incomprehensible musings followed by animated denunciations of Israel and colonialism. In other words, he was speaking exactly the language of the campus left. This was a speech the campus left understood, and his initial rebuke of President Bollinger’s lack of hospitality obviously scored big with his supporters.
4. Finally, isn’t is a strange sign of the times that the crowd seemed united in derision not when Bollinger described Iran’s support for terrorism, its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, its supply of weapons that are killing American soldiers, or Ahmadinajad’s denial of the Holocaust, but when he denied there were any “homosexuals” in Iran. It seems that sexual identity politics trumps all.