Columbia University’s invitation, uninvitation, reinvitation absurd appearance of Ahmadinejad, and the show of refreshing but futile hostility toward him by Lee Bollinger the president of the university, has now passed into history. I've been trying to give my thoughts shape for a few days now. The whole thing was so ill considered from the beginning and has come to such a chaotic and inconclusive end that I was originally going to call this post The Ghost of “Wrong Way” Corrigan, as a reference to the epic reversals of direction and Lee Bollinger’s blind launch into a foggy night and his journey in a direction opposite to his intention. But then I read about the original “wrong way” guy, Douglas Corrigan, and I realized that the comparison was invalid.
Douglas Wrong Way Corrigan
Thanks to Wikipedia I learned that it was most likely that Mr. Corrigan had gone exactly where he had intended to go. Corrigan, it seems, had been an accomplished flyer, aviation mechanic and navigator on that foggy day that he took off from New York city headed for California and wound up a few dozen hours later in Ireland. Although he never admitted it publicly, the probable real story was that there was no chance that his diversion was an accident. In fact, he was one of the crew who had helped prepare Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis for the flight to Paris. It seems that Corrigan had applied for permission to make a trans-Atlantic flight and been denied. So, although to end of his life he never admitted it, most knowledgable observers are of the opinion that when he left New York with a flight plan for California and ended up in Ireland, he was just doing what he wanted to do and daring anyone to punish him.
Columbia University President, Lee Bollinger
I was pretty surprised that Lee Bollinger put on a good account of his promised “sharp remarks” when he addressed them to Ahmadinejad this past Monday afternoon. Having heard his address at this past spring’s graduation ceremonies, I was expecting something far more equivocal. It is not news to me that his guy can thread the ideological needle. He is smart and he is good at what he does. I just didn’t expect hat he would come out as strongly.
I have to confess that when he began his remarks to the Iranian President by saying, “Today, I feel all the weight of the modern civilized world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for,” I was initially impressed and relieved. As I listened, though, it dawned on me that, satisfying as it was to have the well, spoken and charismatic Bollinger give this tin-pot despot a tongue lashing was, as I had myself predicted, not a victory at all.
Much of our earliest and most basic childhood training as westerners teaches that when confronted with the facts and made to listen to them presented, appropriately, cogently and forcefully, it is not possible to deny them. The primacy of ideas, compassion, logic and fair play in our childhood indoctrination is so powerful and pervasive we cannot conceive of another way to experience the world. Thus we believe that all we have to do is find the right way of communicating and any human being is bound to see things the way we do.
I was twelve years old in October of 1960 when Nikita Khrushchev appeared at the UN and became so enraged in the debate that he took off one of his shoes and pounded it on the desk in front of him while he harangued that august assembly. This outburst was very disturbing to children in suburban American. It wasn’t so much the nuclear threat and the ominous cold war rhetoric, it was the spectacle of an adult behaving in ways that we were so thoroughly conditioned to think of as unthinkable for anyone over the age of three that disrupted our sense of what makes the world predictable and safe. I recall vividly, that one day while discussing the incident in class, one of my classmates (one of those pretty, well-dressed little girls with nice manners, I think her name was Deborah) raised her hand and said, “Well, I am going to write him (Khrushchev) a letter and tell him that he should be ashamed of himself”. The invincible confidence of a twelve-year-old girl in her ability to correct and persuade a frothing zealot is sweet and endearing; when you find the same self-absorbed, quixotic confidence in the president of one of the World’s great institutions of learning, it’s not so cute.
Bollinger, like most of the rest of the academic elite, reacts to the Islamist threat with much the same visceral sense of disorientation and threat that had my little classmate Deborah in 6th grade so worked up. In fact, the Caliphate fanaticism of people like Ahmadinejad is so disruptive to the western psyche and world view, that when we come up against a true fanatic like Ahmadinejad, those of us who do not understand that not all human beings have the same training, are unable to cope with the disorientation. This is why otherwise highly intelligent and accomplished people like Bollinger become such easily manipulated dupes; and he stepped right into full “dupe-hood” in the instant that he began addressing Ahmadinejad. Like much of the left, Bollinger is subject to extreme anxiety about the emotions and reasons of those who are self-proclaimed enemies of the west. He says to Ahmadinejad accusingly, “Do you plan on wiping us off the map, too?”
He asks a litany of plaintive “whys”-
Why have women, members of the Baha'i faith, homosexuals and so many of our academic colleagues become targets of persecution in your country?
Why in a letter last week to the secretary general of the U.N. did Akbar Gangi, Iran's leading political dissident, and over 300 public intellectuals, writers and Nobel Laureates express such grave concern that your inflamed dispute with the West is distracting the world's attention from the intolerable conditions your regime has created within Iran? In particular, the use of the Press Law to ban writers for criticizing the ruling system.
Why are you so afraid of Iranian citizens expressing their opinions for change?
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?
Can you tell them and us why Iran is fighting a proxy war in Iraq by arming Shi'a militia targeting and killing U.S. troops?
Anyone who has followed Ahmadinejad’s career and speeches already knows the answers to those questions. He has told the world what he believes but very few have listened to him. He is a Caliphate Muslim who believes the advent of the Mahdi is imminent. His vision of the Mahdi is apocalyptical and involves the slaughter and subjugation of all non-believers. He sees himself as a catalyst, or even, an instigator of this process. Bollinger didn’t break any new ground. He didn’t challenge Ahmadinejad’s religious mania. He just indulged the perennial leftist preoccupation with “Why do they hate us?”
They (the left) find Islamist rage, lying, prevarication and violence so unsettling to their infantile sense of what makes the world safe that their first priority is to attempt to regain some feeling of safety and control. Under such stress, people are often reduced to infantile and irrational behavior (why do you hate us? , but why, why?).
Bollinger eventually even tempered his strongest words, as when he said “Let's, then, be clear at the beginning, Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator,” He's not calling him a petty and cruel dictator, he's just saying he resembles one. It is as if he is begging Ahmadinejad to explain the unexplainable or to recant his fanaticism on the spot and exchange ideas rationally. It was pathetic really, here is his closing line, “I am only a professor, who is also a university president, and today I feel all the weight of the modern civilized world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for. I only wish I could do better”. As I wrote before the event, it would have been better not to have put himself, Columbia and the rest of Western Civilization in that position.
He even alluded to the pernicious defense mechanism of “excessive self criticism” which many leftists indulge in when he said “We at this university have not been shy to protest and challenge the failures of our own government to live by these values; and we won't be shy in criticizing yours.” In order to feel safer in the face of the rage and hatred that they can’t explain, they make believe that it’s the “grown-ups who have to work for a living- President Bush (Bushitler), “The Multinational Corporations and Israel who are the sources of the world’s evil. It seems easier to blame them because, deep down, the lefist knows that they will not harm or scare them in any way. They are under control and subject to the same Western mores that make our society egalitarian and safe. No Columbia has never been “shy to protest and challenge the failures of our own government” why should they be? They are much safer to tweak than the murderous, hair-trigger fanatics and their beliefs which are actually the problem.
Here is a note to the rest of us: “Don’t ever look to a leftist for a positive and competent counter-attack on our enemies. Because even when they get a lot of the rhetoric right, their moral compass is so out of kilter that they fail to make the key connections. Bollinger, so far as I can tell, is as good as it gets as far as intellect and moral compass left of the center but he still strikes the primary chords of all leftist dealings with the Caliphate/Mahdi movement, “I don’t feel safe, you’re frightening me, please tell me (or at least let me believe) you are rational and have reasonable goals.” They never touch on the fact that it is a religious and a cultural hatred that is directed at us- simply because we are what we are and believe what we believe.
I'm with him on one thing, I too wish Bollinger could have done a better job. He went up against a guy who didn’t care about his ideas, his sincerity and the sharpness of his remarks. He was a great tidal wave of liberal Western Indignation but he broke on his guests fanatic, megalomaniacal will. Ahmadinejad absorbed Bollinger’s best shot and still took away exactly what he had wanted to gain from the occasion. He got to sneer in the hallowed halls of the Dhimmi, he gets to go home with the bragging rights of having counted coup on the sincere, deluded infidels of New York City.
No, President Bollinger Bollinger did not come off looking like the educator who will raise up the next generation of leaders for Democracy, he didn’t even come off as anything that might be compared to the iconoclastic, intrepid and capable Wrong Way Corrigan.
No, if anything he was more to be compared with Captain Peter "Wrong Way" Peachfuzz the world’s worst sailor from the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon show.
Captain Peter Peachfuzz
Bollinger, in this case, seems to have no idea which end is up. Because he will not ask the right questions, he is like a navigator who refuses to read his compass. He sets out in a direction with the best of intentions and ends up thwarting those very intentions. Like a haunting living version of Captain Peachfuzz, he is a man with a big beautiful ship who cannot bring himself to steer it properly. It brings to mind an eerie Nostradamus-like echo of Captain Peachfuzz’s last voyage. The redoubtable Peachfuzz ended his sailing career by smashing his ship head-on into Lower Manhattan, cleaving into the island, and lodging on Wall Street in the very shadow of what, forty years later would become Ground Zero.