Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Haaretz on Ahmadinejad

Rosner on Ahmadinejad (Ha'aretz)

Ahmadinejad and the city

The president of Columbia University apparently believes that he evinced extraordinary courage - not only once, but twice. First, when he faced down his critics and, in the name of "freedom of academic discourse," hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and a second time when he insulted his guest. "A petty and cruel dictator," he called him.

Standing at the podium in his university, facing his faculty, protected by American police, Professor Lee Bollinger really is a big hero. However, both the invitation and the insult said more about the host than about the guest. What has become clear beyond all doubt this week, if there had been any doubt, is that Ahmadinejad, petty or not, cruel or not, is above all a world-class celebrity of the sort that a New York backdrop only flatters.

How natural the news broadcasters sounded as they skipped from the Iranian's adventures in the big city to those of O.J. Simpson in Las Vegas on his way to a failed bank robbery. Nonsensical chatter about academic freedom alongside the tabloid Simpson story. Like the publisher that wanted to publish Simpson's book, If I Did It, Columbia University simply could not resist the temptation.


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For three days now, the university's name has been mentioned on every news broadcast. Its backers were invited to be interviewed on every obscure program, and broadcast vehicles were kept ready since early morning to bring that man's words to a thirsty nation. Did they expect that Ahmadinejad would suddenly decide to tell them the truth, of all things? Did they believe themselves when they said that they would ask him "probing questions?" Did they think that he would in fact answer them? Did they know that he would lie, but not care, as long as he came?

It is hard to know which would be worse: The former would be indicative of a degree of stupidity, unacceptable even at academic institutions; the latter would indicate deliberate, ugly cynicism. In either case, the president of Iran received a platform and publicity that others can only dream of.

John Coatsworth, the dean of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs, pressured the president for "a simple yes or no answer" to an important question: Does he want to destroy Israel? And supposing he had answered "yes" or "no," instead of evading the question as is his wont - would that have made any difference?

Continued at source...

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