The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Is this really how we should treat guests?

By Chen-Yu Wu

Having followed the media coverage of the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Columbia University on Monday, I was especially shocked and appalled to read about the shameful and disgraceful way he was introduced by Dr. Lee Bollinger, President of Columbia University. As most of you know, Dr. Bollinger prominently introduced President Ahmadinejad as a “petty and cruel dictator,” accusing him of being “brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated” in front of an assembled audience and proceeding to give him the most hostile reception of a guest I have ever seen. If a public dressing-down was the only thing Columbia University wanted, why bother extending the invitation to Mr. Ahmadinejad at all?The beauty of academic institutions in the United States is the ideal of academic freedom – the freedom to take what material is available to you and use it to draw your own, unique, individual conclusions. The raison d’etre of colleges and universities is to instill the skills of critical thinking and analysis within their students. When necessary, these skills not only include the clear articulation of one’s ideas and positions, but also their defense via means of well-reasoned and supported arguments. Since the 1800s, when secularists began to wrest control of academic institutions from religious authorities, academia has been a forum of constant inquiry which advances human knowledge.

I believe Dr. Bollinger overstepped his authority by drawing conclusions for the student body about Mr. Ahmadinejad. By doing so, Dr. Bollinger effectively discredited everything that Mr. Ahmadinejad was going to saybefore he had a chance to speak. This is unforgivable. Even though Mr. Ahmadinejad ended up making some ridiculous statements of his own (such as questioning the validity of the Holocaust and denying the existence of homosexuals within Iran), he also made what I believe to be some very valid points, two of which were:

1. “Let the people of Palestine freely choose what they want for their future;” essentially calling for a democratic election unhindered and unaffected by the Israeli state;

2. Pointing out the degree in which the mass media has entangled itself with the government, which has ensured that American news coverage on a wide range of issues – particularly those pertaining to the Middle East – has been unmistakably biased and pro-Bush.

These are two points with which I am sure most Macalester College students would freely admit to agreeing. Dr. Bollinger, however, effectively rendered all of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s arguments null. In doing so, he also proved himself to be an extremely rude and discourteous host. This sets a dangerous precedent for future ‘controversial’ guest speakers.

While I freely admit that the majority of students at Columbia University probably already held the same opinions which Dr. Bollinger articulated, Mr. Ahmadinejad still deserves to be treated like any other guest speaker. The students of Columbia University deserve to draw their own judgments about Mr. Ahmadinejad, untainted by the judgments in Dr. Bollinger’s introductory speech.

Given the prominence of the event, Dr. Bollinger should have been far more considerate. While many people worldwide would not dispute Dr. Bollinger’s arguments, I believe many people will construe his treatment of his guest as another example of American patronizing and arrogance. In an era where America desperately needs to embrace international partnerships and transnational collaboration, Dr. Bollinger’s introduction, however well-intentioned, was another PR gaffe for the United States as a country.

And just for the record: far from being a dictator, Mr. Ahmadinejad was popularly-elected to the presidency.

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    Carol SkinnerSep 7, 2019 at 1:07 pm

    I too think thence, perfectly composed post! .