Saturday, November 17, 2007

Moral Bankruptcy at Columbia

On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that more than 100 Columbia faculty signed a letter criticizing the leadership of University President Lee Bollinger (link via Hot Air). Among the concerns expressed in the letter was the issue of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's September visit to campus.

So, are the disgruntled faculty unhappy that their university invited a Holocaust denier who despises the very principle of free inquiry to campus? No, according to the Times, they are upset that President Bollinger chose to point out some of these facts when he introduced Ahmadinejad:

“I think for most people the Ahmadinejad incident was an occasion that brought out a lot of discomfort,” said Wayne Proudfoot, a religion professor. “It seemed clear to me that the language he used in introducing Ahmadinejad was intended to, and had the effect of, placating, appeasing and being a message to conservative critics.”

Eric Foner, an American history professor who was one of the most outspoken professors at yesterday’s meeting, read aloud some of Mr. Bollinger’s remarks to Mr. Ahmadinejad, and added, “This is the language of warfare at a time when the administration of our country is trying to whip up Iran, and to my mind is completely inaccurate.”

It's one thing to defend Ahmadinejad's appearance on free speech grounds. Even I reluctantly embraced such a position. However, I can not even begin to imagine the depths of moral and intellectual vacuity required to act as his apologist. So, condemning one of the leading figures of a brutal autocratic regime causes Professor Proudfoot "a lot of discomfort"? Perhaps he would like to examine the level of discomfort currently prevailing in Iranian academia. David J. Rusin's piece for Pajamas Media offers a good starting point:

Religious issues alone do not drive academic discrimination in Iran; the freedoms of expression and association are treated with equal contempt. Western institutions commit their own sins in this area, enacting speech codes and other instruments of ideological control. However, outright denials of access based on political views remain thankfully rare in this part of the world. The Islamic Republic is not so gracious toward its nonconformists.

Two blatant examples come to mind. First, students protesting the closure of a reformist newspaper were violently suppressed in July 1999. An unknown number were killed and others were dispatched to the notorious Evin Prison. Second, Iranian higher education has witnessed a rolling purge since the election of 2005. This has included forced retirements, the installation of a cleric at the head of Tehran University, and Ahmadinejad’s call for students to oust secular professors.

Away from the cameras, real or imagined dissidents face an array of more subtle obstacles. An October 2006 HRW backgrounder catalogs seventeen students barred from either completing their degrees or registering for programs to which they had been accepted. Sixteen of them are known activists or members of pro-reform Islamic Student Associations; the other happens to be the daughter of a persecuted intellectual. Dozens more were suspended for up to two semesters by campus disciplinary committees.

The motive underlying these exclusions is made clear by the scores of students who have been allowed to register only after signing a pledge “to observe all ideological, political, and moral regulations within the current legal framework, in particular the university’s disciplinary regulations. I understand that in case of any instance of acting against the terms of this commitment letter, the relevant officials are allowed to cancel my registration and to prevent my further education.”

If Professor Foner would like to know what the "language of warfare" actually sounds like, he might want to start by reading the statements of Ahmadinejad and other leaders of Iran's Islamist autocracy in their country's media. A September 17 analysis from MEMRI provides just a few examples:

Ahmadinejad's recent speeches have also been characterized by statements against the Zionists and against Israel, which he called "Satan's standard-bearer." [21]

At the August 28, 2007 press conference, he said: "[The Zionists] have no religion, for religion means having faith in others and maintaining friendly [relations] with [other] nations. But everywhere they exist there is war. They are responsible for much of the injustice in the world. The Zionists are a minority which numbers no more than a few tens of thousands, but they have formed clandestine organizations, because they do not want peace and friendship to prevail among the nations... They thrive on war and hatred. If peace [ever] prevails in the world, the people of the world will eradicate Zionism. If the [European] nations could have acted [freely], they would have thrown them out of Europe." [22]

Of course, most radical leftists like Proudfoot and Foner could care less about the ideology and actions of Iran's regime. Their only guiding principle is knee jerk opposition to the U.S. government regardless of circumstances. This includes a willingness to apologize for whatever Third World despotism is currently in conflict with the United States. For many on the Left, playing at "speaking truth to power" is far more important than condemning actual dictatorships like Iran.


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