In a flare-up of old tensions between the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University and the school's administration, a leading Iranian scholar at the university is labeling its president, Lee Bollinger, a white supremacist whose harsh rebuke of President Ahmadinejad of Iran reeked of "mind-numbing racism."
Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature, writes in an article published this week in an Egyptian newspaper, Al-Ahram, that the introduction Mr. Bollinger extended to the visiting Iranian leader included "the most ridiculous clichés of the neocon propaganda machinery, wrapped in the missionary position of a white racist supremacist carrying the heavy burden of civilizing the world."
The Columbia president's opening statement, Mr. Dabashi writes, is "propaganda warfare … waged by the self-proclaimed moral authority of the United States."
Mr. Bollinger's remarks last month, in which he called the Iranian a "petty and cruel dictator" who lacked the "intellectual courage" to offer real answers on denying the Holocaust, persecuting women and scholars in Iran, calling for the destruction of Israel, and funding terrorism, were greeted by a fierce backlash from Columbia students and faculty. Some of them said he employed "schoolyard taunts" to insult an invited guest and world leader.
Mr. Dabashi's categorization of the president as a racist, however, is perhaps the most severe public indictment yet of Mr. Bollinger's behavior.
"Only Lee Bollinger's mind-numbing racism when introducing Ahmadinejad could have made the demagogue look like the innocent bystander in a self-promotional circus," Mr. Dabashi, who was born in Iran and contributes frequently to Al-Ahram, writes.
One professor at Columbia said yesterday that Mr. Dabashi's article was "sheer demagoguery."
"I was not favorably impressed by what either party said in the event, but attributing President Bollinger's remarks or behavior to racism is absurd," a professor of epidemiology at Columbia who is the co-coordinator of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, Judith Jacobson, said in an e-mail message.
Messrs. Dabashi and Bollinger clashed in the past, when pro-Palestinian Arab professors were accused of intimidating Jewish students in class.
In 2005, Mr. Bollinger called Mr. Dabashi's viewpoints "deeply personally offensive," to which Mr. Dabashi reportedly responded: "I find him 10 times more outrageous."
When asked about the professor's recent outburst, a Columbia spokesman, Robert Hornsby, said the administration would not comment.
The accusation of racism on campus comes on the heels of a racially charged incident last week at the Teachers College, where a noose was found hanging on the office door of a black professor, Madonna Constantine.
"At this point, whoever did it seems irrelevant. It's opened up broader issues," a professor at the Teachers College, George Bonanno, said yesterday.
"I suspect it was from a disgruntled student," a professor of psychology and education at the Teachers College, Warner Burke, said.
Police officials have not identified a suspect in the noose incident.