How Not To Treat a Guest

President Lee Bollinger of Columbia University has put me in the unfortunate and precarious position of having to side with President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Yes, I believe that Ahmadinejad is the most vile and evil person to walk the face of the earth since Adolf Hitler.  But one does not invite a guest into their home only to be berated, insulted and attacked relentlessly. 

President Ahmadinejad had not uttered even a single word before the leader of the seemingly prestigious Columbia University hurled insult upon insult at his invited guest.  In so doing, he bolstered the status of the leader of one of the United States’ worst enemies and gave the entire Muslim population reason to support this tyrant.  Ahmadinejad’s position of right was validated without even having to open his mouth.  Bollinger was able to single-handedly turn Ahmadinejad into a national hero in Iran and throughout the region.

But the problem did not begin with the University President’s opening remarks.  The problem began with the initial invitation.  Freedom of speech is a constitutionally guaranteed right to the citizens of the United States.  As such, Bollinger had the right to say what he did and to extend the invitation to the Iranian leader.  However, Ahmadinejad has no such right under our constitution and should not have been given a platform to exercise this privilege.

Once the damage was done by invitation, Bollinger should have kept his opening remarks simple and understated.  The time for his remarks should have been during the question and answer session after the initial speech.

The session was a veritable coup for the Iranian President in a series of political successes over the duration of his trip.  His request to lay a wreath at the site of the Twin Towers was a win-win situation.  Either he could be seen paying respect to the terrorists that he supports by laying the wreath, or he could make America look like the bad guy by our refusing to allow him access to the site.  He would have had neither opportunity had he not been invited.

Though I strongly believe that this is not a fly that you could catch with neither honey nor vinegar, it is not justified to lure him in with either and then repeatedly swat at him as though he were interloping.  He was a guest and should have been treated with all the respect that such status implies.  To do otherwise casts a doubt upon the sincerity and civility of our nation as a whole and not just Bollinger as an individual.

Here are a few of the insults that Bollinger unleashed on Monday.

Human rights

"The (recent) arrest and imprisonment of these Iranian-Americans for no good reason is not only unjustified, it runs completely counter to the very values that allow today’s speaker to even appear on this campus.

"But at least they are alive. ... Iran hanged up to 30 people this past July and August during a widely reported suppression of efforts to establish a more democratic society. Many of these executions were carried out in public view, a violation of the international covenant of civil and political rights to which Iran is a party. ...

"Let’s then, be clear at the beginning — Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator 

"And so I ask you, why have women, members of the Bahai faith, homosexuals and so many of our academic colleagues become targets of persecution in your country?"

The Holocaust

"In a December 2005 state television broadcast, you described the Holocaust as the fabricated legend. One year later you held a two-day conference of Holocaust deniers.

"For the illiterate and ignorant this is dangerous propaganda. When you come to a place like in this makes you quite simply ridiculous. You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated. ... The truth is that the Holocaust is the most documented event in human history. ... Will you cease this outrage?"


"Twelve days ago you said that the state of Israel cannot continue its life. This echoed a number of inflammatory statements you have delivered in the past two years including in October 2005, you said that Israel should be wiped off the map, quote-unquote. ...

"Personally I have spoken out in most forceful terms against proposals to boycott Israeli scholars and universities, saying that such boycotts might as well include Columbia. More than 400 college and university presidents in this country have joined in that statement. My question then is, do you plan on wiping us off the map, too?"

Proxy war in Iraq

"A number of Columbia graduates and current students are among the brave members of our military who are serving or have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. ...

"Can you tell them and us why Iran is fighting a proxy war in Iraq by arming Shia militia targeting and killing U.S troops?"

Nuclear program

"Why does your country continue to refuse to adhere to international standards for nuclear weapons verification in defiance of agreements that you have made with the U.N. nuclear agency?

"And why have you chosen to make the people of your country vulnerable to the effects of international economic sanctions and threaten to engulf the world in nuclear annihilation?"

Giving straight answers

"Frankly, and in all candor, Mr. President, I doubt that you will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions, but your avoiding them will in itself be meaningful to us. I do expect you to exhibit the fanatical mindset that characterizes so much of what you say and do."

The question remains as to whether Bollinger has the intellectual courage to apologize for his remarks.