When Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University, Columbia's President Lee Bollinger offered to travel to Iran himself, in the interests of promoting freedom of speech there: "Let me," he implored Ahmadinejad, "lead a delegation of students and faculty from Columbia to address your university about free speech, with the same freedom we afford you today. Will you do that?"
Now, a delegation from Columbia is indeed planning to go to Tehran – but it isn't quite the delegation that Bollinger had in mind. Tehran's Mehr News Agency recently reported that a group of Columbia University professors, including faculty deans, are preparing a trip to Iran, but not to promote free speech. Instead, they're going to present an official apology to Iran's President, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, for the way he was treated by Columbia President Lee Bollinger when he visited the university last September.
It's hard to see how their apology can be "official" without the sanction of Columbia's chief official, and it's even harder to see what Bollinger did that was so offensive as to give these professors the idea that they must travel halfway around the world in order to make amends.
Bollinger, of course, shocked the nation and the world when he called Ahmadinejad a "petty and cruel dictator," criticized human rights abuses within Iran, and asked the Iranian President a series of pointed questions, including: "Why have women, members of the Baha'i faith, homosexuals, and so many of our academic colleagues become targets of persecution in your country?" and "Why do you support well-documented terrorist organizations that continue to strike at peace and democracy in the Middle East, destroying lives and civil society in the region?" He even confronted Ahmadinejad about Iran's nuclear program, asking him: "Why does your country continue to refuse to adhere to international standards for nuclear weapons verification in defiance of agreements that you have made with the UN nuclear agency? And why have you chosen to make the people of your country vulnerable to the effects of international economic sanctions and threaten to engulf the world with nuclear annihilation?"
Was Bollinger exaggerating the evil of the Iranian mullahcracy? Hardly. Amnesty International noted in its 2007 report on Iran that the "human rights situation" there has "deteriorated, with civil society facing increasing restrictions on fundamental freedoms of expression and association. Scores of political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, continued to serve prison sentences imposed following unfair trials in previous years. Thousands more arrests were made in 2006, mostly during or following demonstrations. Human rights defenders, including journalists, students and lawyers, were among those detained arbitrarily without access to family or legal representation. Torture, especially during periods of pre-trial detention, remained commonplace. At least 177 people were executed, at least four of whom were under 18 at the time of the alleged offence, including one who was under 18 at the time of execution. Two people were reportedly stoned to death. Sentences of flogging, amputation and eye-gouging continued to be passed. The true numbers of those executed or subjected to corporal punishment were probably considerably higher than those reported."
Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad's belligerent statements, some bordering on the genocidal, are well known. He has boasted that "the annihilation of the Zionist regime will come," and has praised the jihad terrorist organization Hizballah. During Israel's incursion against Hizballah in Lebanon in 2006, the Iranian President declared: "Today, Hizbullah in Lebanon is the standard-bearer of the resistance of all the monotheistic peoples, of the seekers of justice, and of the free people. Hassan Nasrallah is shouting the loud cry of the vigilant human consciences. Today, Hizbullah stands tall as the representative of all the peoples, all the vigilant consciences, all the monotheistic people, all the seekers of justice, and all free people of the world, against the rule of hegemony. Until now, with the help of Allah, [Hizbullah] is winning, and, Allah willing, it will reach the ultimate victory in the near future."
That "ultimate victory" would be the total destruction of Israel: "The Islamic umma (community)," he has affirmed, "will not allow its historic enemy [Israel] to live in its heartland." Israel's end is near, he said: "There is no doubt that the new wave [of attacks] in Palestine will soon wipe off this disgraceful blot [Israel] from the face of the Islamic world." He has declared that "the Zionist regime is counterfeit and illegitimate and cannot survive."
His genocidal statements have gone beyond Israel. At the "World Without Zionism" conference held in Tehran in October 2005, as the crowd chanted "death to Israel, death to America, death to England," the Iranian President again recalled Khomeini's words: "Once, his eminency Imam [Ruhollah] Khomeini stated that the illegal regime of the Pahlavis must go, and it happened. Then he said the Soviet empire would disappear, and it happened. He also said that this evil man Saddam [Hussein] must be punished, and we see that he is under trial in his country. His eminency also said that the occupation regime of Qods [Jerusalem, or Israel] must be wiped off from the map of the world, and with the help of the Almighty, we shall soon experience a world without America and Zionism, notwithstanding those who doubt."
Also, Ahmadinejad has threatened Iran's foes with nuclear action: "Today, the Iranian people is the owner of nuclear technology. Those who want to talk with our people should know what people they are talking to. If some believe they can keep talking to the Iranian people in the language of threats and aggressiveness, they should know that they are making a bitter mistake. If they have not realized this by now, they soon will, but then it will be too late. Then they will realize that they are facing a vigilant, proud people."
Would the Columbia professors like to see a world in which America and Israel had been blasted to nuclear ruin? Do they approve of restrictions on freedom of speech and freedom of the press, of the violent persecutions of minorities, of torture and stonings?
At Columbia in September, Bollinger concluded by challenging Ahmadinejad: "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." Now, a delegation of Columbia professors is determined to do all it can to confirm Iran's President in that fanatical, unreflective, inflexible mindset – and the sufferings of the Iranian people be damned.