Ahmadinejad at Columbia
The San Francisco Chronicle thinks Ahmadinejad speech at Columbia was a resounding victory for Lee Bollinger:
Columbia University President Lee Bollinger courageously, imho, resisted pressure to call off Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speech at Columbia today. But he went one better. In a stunning statement, right in front of Ahmadinejad, he wiped the floor with the putative head of Iran's despotic regime, taking him to angry, articulate task on issues such as Holocaust denial, Israel's right to exist, subversion of Lebanon's government and support for terrorism.
Too bad that many may not hear about Bollinger's triumph in Iran. Reuters reports:
Iran judiciary seals offices of news Web site. ... Iran’s judiciary has sealed off the offices of a popular news Web site critical of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s policies after journalists continued to update it despite official filtering, the Web site said. ... Although Iran says it allows free speech, journalists say they have to tread carefully between a growing number of “red lines” to avoid closure. Iran’s culture minister in July said there were signs of a “creeping coup” in the country’s press.
And outside the firewall this is the way Al-Jazeera reported Bollinger's 'triumph' over Ahmadinejad. It sounds like it could be scored the other way.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, was subjected to blistering criticism of his country's human rights record and foreign policy during a controversial visit to a New York university.
"Mr President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator," Lee Bollinger, Columbia University's president, said on Monday.
He also challenged Ahmadinejad's reported denial of the Holocaust.
"When you come to a place like this it makes you simply ridiculous," he said. "The truth is that the Holocaust is the most documented event in human history."
Ahmadinejad rose to applause, and after a religious invocation said Bollinger's opening was "an insult to information and the knowledge of the audience here".
He blamed the university president's "unfriendly treatment" on the influence of the US media and politicians ahead of his visit.
And lest anyone think only Al-Jazeera scored things as a win, here is Time Magazine admiring the way in which the Iranian President used Bollinger.
It was pure political ju-jitsu, using the momentum of your adversaries to your own advantage. The protestors got him on TV, and he used the platform to grandstand for the folks back home. He will share an even bigger global platform with President Bush on Tuesday, at the lectern of the U.N. General Assembly. The two men won't appear together, of course, but each is making a pitch for international support in the showdown over Iran's nuclear issue. But Ahmedinajad appeared to steal a march on Bush Monday by virtue of his televised propaganda show at Columbia.
Challenged on his statements questioning the Holocaust, for example, Ahmadinejad cleverly turned the issue around, asking, "Why is it that the Palestinian people are paying the price for an event they had nothing to do with?" That argument may not get much sympathy with an American audience, but championing the Palestinian cause helps Iran's strategy of undermining the moderate Arab regimes allied with Washington.
Both Bollinger and Ahmedinajad broadcast their messages on a platform which grabbed the attention of the world. But what was said on that platform will be selectively quoted and amplified in a process that favors Ahmedinajad's signal over Bollinger's. The amplifying circuitry of the media will ensure that an anti-Israel, anti-American message will get more than a fair airing. Few will read the exchange verbatim. If Bollinger thinks that a few barbed questions, a few provocative statements; that a little defiance can compensate for giving the Iranian dictator an opportunity to emit a signal which is even now being tweaked and boosted to fit established talking points, he is mistaken. The medium is the massage. What works in the classroom doesn't always work on the larger world stage. In the final paragraphs of the Columbia president's speech he displays a touching faith in the power of his own remarks to explode Ahmedinajad's absurdities:
Let me close with a comment. Frankly -- I close with this comment 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.
Fortunately I am told by experts on your country that this only further undermines your position in Iran, with all the many good-hearted, intelligent citizens there.
Does Bollinger actually believe that the more Ahmedinajad speaks the more he "undermines" his own position in Iran? That the "many good-hearted, intelligent citizens" listening to Bollinger's exchange with Ahmedinajad will have their eyes opened? About the only thing Bollinger got right was the assessment of the importance of his own remarks at the closing of his speech. The Columbia President continues:
A year ago, I am reliably told, your preposterous and belligerent statements in this country, as at one of the meetings at the Council on Foreign Relations, so embarrassed sensible Iranian citizens that this led to your party's defeat in the December mayoral elections. May this do that and more.
I am only a professor, who is also a university president.
This is beyond sad. It's the closing of a man out of his own depth. It's a faculty lunch speech dispatched against a man accustomed to command the secret police, rockets, EFPs, sophisticated propaganda and disinformation cells. Bollinger was game, but not only is he not in the same ring, he doesn't even know where the fight is scheduled to take place. If this is what our intellectual leaders think is effective resistance against the Islamic Revolution then we are in serious trouble.