'Debating' despots

Liberal colleges invite dictators to speak, but not conservatives

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had a highly successful visit to New York last week, thanks chiefly to Columbia University President Lee Bollinger.

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio (jkelly@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1476).

The diminutive despot with the big smirk heads a repressive regime which promotes terrorism. Sophisticated IEDs supplied by Iran are the principal cause of U.S. casualties in Iraq. Mr. Ahmadinejad has called repeatedly for the obliteration of Israel and is seeking nuclear weapons to make this possible.

Still, Mr. Bollinger thought he'd make a fine guest. "What is at stake is the ability to learn about the world and learn about people, even dictators," he said.

Columbia would have invited Adolf Hitler to speak "if he were willing to engage in debate and discussion," said John Coatsworth, dean of the School of International and Public Affairs.

Columbia's stirring defense of free speech would have been less risible if the university were more consistent in applying it. Columbia bars ROTC from campus because homosexuals are not permitted to serve openly in the U.S. armed forces. But Mr. Bollinger saw nothing inappropriate in inviting to his campus a dictator whose regime routinely murders homosexuals.

In any event, Mr. Ahmadinejad wasn't "willing to engage in debate and discussion." When asked tough questions, he either lied -- his howler that there are no homosexuals in Iran brought down the house -- or ignored them.

Many of the tough questions were asked by Mr. Bollinger, who evidently was stung by criticism of his decision to give a forum to the despot. But no one in Iran heard them. The state-controlled media there reported only that he had been rude to his guest.

As Mr. Bollinger unquestionably had been. The diminutive despot is all the bad things Mr. Bollinger said he is, and more, which calls into question why Mr. Bollinger invited him in the first place. But having extended the invitation, his behavior was inhospitable.

This roughly doubled the propaganda value Mr. Ahmadinejad derived from his visit to Columbia. To an American audience, the Iranian despot came off like a petty bigot. But Mr. Ahmadinejad's primary audience is in Iran. What Iranians saw (through the filter of a state-controlled press) was a leading American academic institution paying deference to their ruler, who overcame the rudeness of his host to "wag his finger in the face of the Great Satan," as one commentator noted.

It is a sign of the detachment from reality and the egotism of the academic left that so many believe dictators would engage in "dialogue," or give a fig what American academics think about anything.

In the alternative universe in which many liberals live, the only people who cannot be reasoned with and must be crushed are Republicans. Mr. Ahmadinejad is welcome at Columbia, but former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is unwelcome at Stanford.

Many on the left have a fascination with and an attraction for vicious mass murders. Stalin, Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro all had their cults on college campuses. Che Guevara handbags are popular accessories for Hollywood starlets.

The attraction of the academic left to charismatic Communists is, in a macabre sort of way, understandable. If you believe in national health care, expanded welfare programs and so forth, Communism can seem to the gullible and uniformed like liberalism on steroids. But Islamofascism -- of which Mr. Ahmadinejad represents a particularly weird variety -- is the antithesis of everything for which liberalism claims to stand.

So how to explain people like Sally Kohn, who wrote on the Daily Kos Web site why she has a "little crush" on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

"I know I'm a Jewish lesbian and he'd probably have me killed. But still, the guy speaks some blunt truths about the Bush administration that make me swoon."

This could only have been written by someone who doesn't think anything bad could ever happen to her, and who doesn't care that other people are being persecuted. And, of course, someone with a total lack of a sense of proportionality. My contempt for John Edwards, say, or John Kerry could hardly be greater. But I'd never equate either to a dictator who enslaves women and murders dissidents, Jews and homosexuals.

It should be a source of national pride that the world's bloodiest despots hate the United States. But for many on the left, a shared hatred of President Bush excuses all other sins.


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