Sunday, September 30, 2007

An anti-Ahmadinejad article that proves its own point

A microcosm of the Bollinger/Ahmadinejad fiasco can be seen in the following two articles: in the first, a media critic blasts Columbia and the media for their part in the Iranian leader's speech - and then Iran's Press TV distorts this same editorial to make Ahmadinejad look good.

First, the LA Times:
Ahmadinejad walks away with a win
His Columbia engagement gives him what he wants -- legitimacy -- and his hosts look rude to Islamic eyes.
By Tim Rutten
September 29, 2007
One of the world's truly dangerous men, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left New York a clear winner this week, and he can thank the arrogance of the American academy and most of the U.S. news media's studied indifference for his victory.

If the blood-drenched history of the century just past had taught American academics one thing, it should have been that the totalitarian impulse knows no accommodation with reason. You cannot change the totalitarian mind through dialogue or conversation, because totalitarianism -- however ingenious the superstructure of faux ideas with which it surrounds itself -- is a creature of the will and not the mind. That's a large lesson, but what should have made Ahmadinejad's appearance at Columbia University this week a wholly avoidable debacle was the school's knowledge of its own, very specific history.

In the 1930s, Columbia was run by Nicholas Murray Butler, to whose name a special sort of infamy attaches. Butler was an outspoken admirer of Italian fascism and of its leader, Benito Mussolini. The Columbia president, who also was in the forefront of Ivy League efforts to restrict Jewish enrollment, worked tirelessly to build ties between his school and Italian universities, as well as with the powerful fascist student organizations. At one point, a visiting delegation of 350 ardent young Black Shirts serenaded Butler with the fascist anthem.

Butler also was keen to establish connections with Nazi Germany and its universities. In 1933, he invited Hans Luther, Adolf Hitler's ambassador to the United States, to lecture on the Columbia campus. Luther stressed Hitler's "peaceful intentions" toward his European neighbors, and, afterward, Butler gave a reception in his honor. As the emissary of "a friendly people," Luther was "entitled to be received with the greatest courtesy and respect," the Columbia president said at the time.


Three years later, Butler sent a delegation of Columbia dignitaries to participate in anniversary celebrations at the University of Heidelberg. That was after Heidelberg had purged all the Jewish professors from its faculty, reformed its curriculum according to Nazi educational theories and publicly burned the unapproved books in its libraries.

It would be interesting to know if any consideration of these events -- and all that followed a decade of engagement and dialogue with fascism -- occurred before Columbia extended a speaking invitation to a man who hopes to see Israel "wiped off the face of the Earth," has denied the Holocaust and is defying the world community in pursuit of nuclear weapons. Perhaps they did and perhaps that's part of what motivated Lee Bollinger, Columbia's president now, to deliver his extraordinarily ill-advised welcoming remarks to Ahmadinejad.

Bollinger clearly had an American audience in mind when he denounced the Iranian leader to his face as a "cruel" and "petty dictator" and described his Holocaust denial as designed to "fool the illiterate and the ignorant." Bollinger's remarks may have taken him off the hook with his domestic critics, but when it came to the international media audience that really counted, Ahmadinejad already had carried the day. The invitation to speak at Columbia already had given him something totalitarian demagogues -- who are as image-conscious as Hollywood stars -- always crave: legitimacy. Bollinger's denunciation was icing on the cake, because the constituency the Iranian leader cares about is scattered across an Islamic world that values hospitality and its courtesies as core social virtues. To that audience, Bollinger looked stunningly ill-mannered; Ahmadinejad dignified and restrained.

Back in Tehran, Mohsen Mirdamadi, a leading Iranian reformer and Ahmadinejad opponent, said Bollinger's blistering remarks "only strengthened" the president back home and "made his radical supporters more determined," According to an Associated Press report, "Many Iranians found the comments insulting, particularly because in Iranian traditions of hospitality, a host should be polite to a guest, no matter what he thinks of him. To many, Ahmadinejad looked like the victim, and hard-liners praised the president's calm demeanor during the event, saying Bollinger was spouting a 'Zionist' line."

All of this was bad enough, but the almost willful refusal of commentators in the American media to provide their audiences with insight into just how sinister Ahmadinejad really is compounded the problem. There are a couple of reasons for the media's general refusal to engage with radical Islamic revivalists, like Ahmadinejad. He belongs to a particularly aggressive school of radical Shiite Islam, the Haghani, which lives in expectation of the imminent coming of the Madhi, a kind of Islamic messiah, who will bring peace and justice -- along with universal Islamic rule -- to the entire world. Serious members of this school -- and Ahmadinejad, who was a brilliant university student, is a very serious member -- believe they must act to speed the Mahdi's coming. "The wave of the Islamic revolution" would soon "reach the entire world," he has promised.

As a fundamentally secular institution, the American press always has had a hard time coming to grips with the fact that Islamists like the Iranian president mean what they say and that they really do believe what they say they believe.
Now, look how Iran's Press TV views this extraordinarily anti-Ahmadinejad article:
Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has returned to Iran "with a win" thanks to his Columbia University speech, a US paper says.

"His Columbia engagement gives him what he wants -legitimacy- and his hosts look rude to Islamic eyes." The Los Angeles Times reported in its Saturday edition.

When the President of Columbia University, Lee Bollinger, introduced President Ahmadinejad to the audiences with the harshest words possible, it seemed that Iran's face had been scratched, but Ahmadinejad's speech spoiled Bollinger's vicious plans, the paper added.

Even to the president's domestic opponents, Bollinger's boorish remarks "only strengthened" Ahmadinejad's situation in the country, the LA Times said.

Many "found the [Bollinger's] comments insulting, particularly because in Iranian traditions of hospitality, a host should be polite to a guest, no matter what he thinks of him." In Columbia University, Ahmadinejad was a "victim, and even hard-liners praised the president's calm demeanor during the event, saying Bollinger was spouting a 'Zionist' line," an Associated Press report said.
Press TV deliberately makes it appear that the LA Times article is referring to Americans being impressed with Ahmadinejad's speech - their purposeful fudging of facts is apparent by adding the word "even" to the AP report quote, which transfers the subject of the sentence from Iranian supporters of Ahmadinejad to American detractors.

The lesson is that even an uncompromising criticism of Ahmadinejad and all he stands for can be twisted by a totalitarian society's unscrupulous press to make it appear as if he was being praised. And Iran's press proves the author's point: even talking negatively about Ahmadinejad will inevitably increase his stature in a Muslim world that craves honor above all.

Because to Muslims in general - specifically those in the Middle East who subscribe to the honor/shame culture - nothing is as disgraceful as being irrelevant. This is the entire mentality behind terrorism, a means to gain world headlines or hurt the dominant West in a sickening bid to feel important. This is how Ahmadinejad sells his nuclear program domestically, as a way to increase Muslim prestige, not energy.

This doesn't mean that we should stop criticizing totalitarian leaders, but it does prove the folly of legitimizing them by giving them their own platform in the nation that they want to see destroyed.