Bloggers debate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Columbia University.

The latest chatter in cyberspace.
Sept. 25 2007 6:26 PM

Mahmoud About Town

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's address at Columbia on Monday inspired both protests and laughter (but not for his sense of humor). The Iranian president got chuckles for remarking that, "in Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country. In Iran we do not have this phenomenon. I do not know who has told you we have it." He also said that "we are friends of the Jews."

One man who garnered almost as much heat as Ahmadinejad is Columbia President Lee Bollinger, who invited Ahmadinejad in the first place and then called him a "petty dictator" in his introductions. "[T]here's an obvious sense in which Lee Bollinger is the hero of the hour, and has done exactly the right thing, in academic terms: invite, and criticize," writes professor Jacob T. Levy at the New Republic's academic blog Open University, but "I can't get over the sense that [Bollinger] did exactly the wrong thing. One can refuse to invite. One can invite, and treat courteously, while relying on the general principle that such an invitation does not imply endorsement of the views expressed. But I'm not sure that inviting-and-insulting is the right thing to do." Law clerk Brendan Loy disagrees at Irish Trojan in Tennessee: Bollinger's introduction "sounds like a pretty awesome, and well-deserved, 'string of insults.' " Loy notes sarcastically: "You'll have to forgive Mahmoud; he's not too familiar with the whole 'free speech' thing."

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While offering a blow-by-blow analysis of Bollinger's remarks, law professor Ann Althouse observes that Bollinger "is framing the event and boxing Ahmadinejad in. What we have here is not really a normal speaker that we might provide a forum for, but more of an object of study for you to abhor in person. I present the monster. It's quite unusual to bring in a guest and then introduce him that way." She concludes, after reviewing Bollinger's desire to "express revulsion" at Ahmadinejad, that "he made the best of a bad situation that he brought upon himself."

But enough about Bollinger. Shifting focus to the Iranian president, Gabriel Malor at conservative Ace of Spades blasts Ahmadinejad's assertion that Iranian women are the "freest in the world," quipping, "Kim Jong-il just phoned in to say, 'No! My women are the freest in the world!' " The Huffington Post's Joe Cutbirthalso finds absurdity: "One awkward, unscripted moment after a silky-smooth speech and the mystique Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spent more than a half hour crafting for hundreds of scholars and students Monday at Columbia University evaporated into pitiful ether. Who can take the president of Iran seriously when he … insists there are no homosexuals in his country?"

Gay conservative Andrew Sullivan isn't laughing, in light of a memo sent out by the Columbia Queer Alliance that suggests using same-sex desire to describe homosexuals in Iran since the terms gay and lesbian are too provocative. "Ahmadinejad was right, you see? There are no gays in Iran. Just ask the Queer Studies Department."

At progressive Talking Points Memo,Josh Marshall notices that Ahmadinejad"backtracked a bit from his statements about Israel, perhaps as some commentators have noted because they've caused him trouble within Iran" and remarks that, "In other cases he put together a fairly incoherent mix of religious interpretation and political rambling." He offers this final reaction: "I think it's hard to come to any conclusion but that Ahmadinejad was diminished by yesterday's events, not elevated. And America seemed bigger for not having cowered before him, as so many wanted to."

Gulf War vet James Joyner responds to attacks on Ahmadinejad at conservative Outside the Beltway: "Ahmadinejad is being portrayed as an enemy head of state because, well, he's an enemy head of state. It's true that he's not the head of government—the Supreme Leader and his council of ayatollahs are the chief policymakers—but he's the public face of the country …he's the public voice of the chief state sponsor of terrorism, a country supplying our enemies in Iraq with weapons used to kill Americans and supplying our enemies throughout the Middle East with weapons used to kill Jews."

"Israel was the loser yesterday," declares Jerusalem-based Israel Matzav, "But not because Ahmadinejad succeeded in convincing anyone that the only country with a problem over Iran's nuclear weapons is Israel. Israel was the loser yesterday because Ahmadinejad framed the 'Palestinian' issue in terms that might resonate with some people in the world."

Read more blogger response to Ahmadinejad's speech. Pajamas Media offers  a news-and-blog roundup. In Slate, Anne Applebaum explains why Columbia should have ignored him in the first place.

Morgan Smith, a former Slate intern, is a law student in Austin, Texas.

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