The main article here is primarily opinion, the kind of thing that I often criticize and generally try
to avoid myself unless expressly so identifying.
Be that what it be, my purpose in posting it -a larger framework, is the
author's identification of an all-to-humanly-common duplicity -willingness to
attack someone 'attackable' for what we may find 'objectionable', but
unwillingness to even bring up of 'accordingly violating' friends or in
matters of 'political correctness'.
September 28, 2007 Los Angeles Times
The Bollinger/Ahmadinejad farce
If the Columbia University president were to introduce Bush the way he did the
Iranian president, that would be an act of free-speech bravery.
By ROSA BROOKS
Imagine the scene: As angry protesters march outside, a nation's unpopular
president prepares to address students and faculty at a prestigious university.
Introducing the president, the head of the university is bluntly critical of
his guest speaker: "You, quite simply, [are] ridiculous. You are either
brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated. . . . I doubt you will have
the intellectual courage to answer [our] questions . . . I do expect you to
exhibit the fanatical mind-set that characterizes so much of what you say and
do. . . . Your preposterous and belligerent statements . . . led to your
party's defeat in the [last] elections."
Unfazed, the president rises to begin his speech. His
sometimes bizarre remarks generate hoots of derision. But he plows on civilly,
though he ducks and weaves when faced with critical questions from the
When the clock runs out, many are dissatisfied with his
answers. But everyone applauds the courageous head of the university, who
wasn't afraid to speak truth to power, and everyone praises the student
protesters, who exemplified the democratic values of dissent and free
Wouldn't it be wonderful if something like that could happen
in our country?
No, no, I mean really happen in our country. Tuesday's farce
in New York at Columbia University, starring Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad as the Unpopular Presidential Guest and Columbia President Lee C.
Bollinger as The Man Who Spoke Truth to Power, doesn't count because it was
just that: a farce.
Ahmadinejad was playing to global public opinion, and though
he lost some PR points for incoherence and general bizarreness of message ("In
Iran, we don't have homosexuals"), he gained some for coming off as a bit more
mature than his prissy, infantile host. ("In Iran, when you invite a guest, you
respect them," Ahmadinejad observed dryly.)
Bollinger, meanwhile, was playing to a different audience.
After taking a beating for giving Ahmadinejad a forum, he was eager to show the
media, alumni, concerned Jewish organizations and a raft of bellicose
neoconservative pundits that he was no terrorist-loving appeaser of Holocaust
In a narrow sense, both Ahmadinejad and Bollinger achieved
their goals. Ahmadinejad showed that he could be dignified in the face of crass
American bullies, which will play well abroad -- and may even buttress his
dwindling prestige in Iran. And Bollinger showed that he can be a crass
American bully, which, in our current political climate, is what passes for
Bollinger's tactics went down well with the New York media,
anyway: The New York Sun rhapsodized about a "Teaching Moment," while the New
York Times expressed the pious hope that "what Americans and Iranians will
remember is that image of professors and students, in a true democratic forum."
And Bollinger seemed quite pleased with his own performance. The Bollinger-
Ahmadinejad Show was "free speech at its best," Bollinger modestly explained to
Sorry, no. "Free speech at its best" is when someone really
does speak truth to power, and power stops blathering long enough to engage
with inconvenient ideas. If an Iranian professor, inside Iran, had said what
Bollinger said to Ahmadinejad, that would have been brave.
Or -- stay with me here -- if Bollinger had invited President
Bush to Columbia and made those same unvarnished remarks to him, and Bush had
toughed it out and struggled to answer half a dozen unfiltered, critical
questions from an audience not made up of his handpicked supporters . . . .
Well, that too would have been free speech at its best.
Unfortunately, that's not the kind of thing you're likely to
see in America.
It's odd, because Bush -- like Ahmadinejad -- makes plenty of
statements that, to paraphrase the eloquent Mr. Bollinger, could be
characterized as ridiculous, provocative, uneducated and fanatical. (Take
Bush's repeated suggestion of a link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11
attacks, for instance.) And as in the case of Ahmadinejad, some of Bush's
preposterous and belligerent statements contributed to the GOP's defeat in the
But so what? Here in the land of free speech, elites --
including those at universities -- too often collude to keep our own president
in his safe little bubble. (Those who forget to pretend that the emperor is
fully dressed, such as Stephen Colbert at the 2006 White House Correspondents
Assn. dinner or Jimmy Carter at Coretta Scott King's funeral, are instantly
chastised for being "inappropriate.")
This week, a global audience saw Iran's "petty and cruel
dictator," as Bollinger called him, courteously parrying questions from hostile
students -- something viewers won't see our democratically elected president
So fine, let's congratulate ourselves for showing Iran just
how many freedoms we have in America. But when we get done congratulating
ourselves on our fancy freedoms, let's figure out why we can't be bothered to
put them to use.