By ARTHUR HERMAN – September 25, 2007
COLUMBIA University President Lee Bollinger yester day made some cutting crit icisms while introducing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – but that doesn’t make the school’s decision to offer a platform to the head of a violent terrorist state any less abject, squalid or shameless.
“Abject, squalid, shameless” is how Winston Churchill described the resolution passed by Oxford University’s prestigious Debating Union in 1933 – the year Adolf Hitler came to power – that “this House will under no circumstances fight for King and Country.”
And Columbia’s event, like the 1933 Oxford resolution, sent (to quote Churchill again) a “very disquieting and disgusting message” to friends and enemies alike.
Many American’s won’t see that; their blindness goes to the heart of the “red-blue” divide in our country – much like the one in ’30s Britain that split men like Churchill from the exponents of appeasing Europe’s dictators.
On one side of that chasm, there is outrage and incomprehension that anyone could extend an invitation to a sworn enemy of the United States to speak on an American campus (a campus, moreover, that bans its own military’s ROTC); that the head of the world’s biggest sponsor of terrorism attacks be welcomed anywhere in the city that was 9/11’s principal target; that a Holocaust-denier be welcomed to a university that has so many Jewish students and alumni.
On the other side, again, there is incomprehension that anyone should be offended. And that is the problem.
President Bollinger argues that a university is above all a forum for hearing conflicting views and opinions – as if Ahmadinejad were some controversial social theorist, not the leader of the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism. In other words, this is a matter of “free speech.”
Yet the real issue is not about words but actions – actions with consequences in an ongoing conflict in which American soldiers are being killed and Iranian dissidents are being beaten and tortured every day. And what Bollinger’s actions (as opposed to his words) reveal is that Columbia somehow considers itself neutral ground in the War on Terror.
The left in this country concluded long ago that this is not a war between Islamic extremist fascism and Western civilization, but a fight between Islamic “militants” and President Bush. The events of 9/11 never changed the left/liberal view that the real menace to world peace is the Bush administration and what Sen. J. William Fulbright used to call “the arrogance of American power” – much as British leftists in the early ’30s assumed that the real cause of war wasn’t men like Hitler or Mussolini, but capitalism and arms merchants.
One of the signs outside yesterday’s events summed this view up nicely: “We refuse to choose between Islamic fundamentalism and American imperialism.”
In short, too many men and women at Columbia (and on other U.S. campuses) see the War on Terror as something that they are free to judge and criticize as if it doesn’t involve them.
Just as President Bush has the right to make his case, so the reasoning goes (yet when was the last time an administration official was given a major public forum at Columbia?), fairness demands that Ahmadinejad have the same right.
The left assumes this neutral posture puts them in the middle and keeps them safe. In fact, it leaves them nowhere.
Because what is actually at stake is whether these United States can stand together to condemn the head of a state that sponsors terrorism around the world and is killing American soldiers in Iraq, to send a signal to the people of Iran (and of Iraq) that we will stand firm against a corrupt and murderous Islamo-fascist regime.
Adolf Hitler got the clear message of the 1933 Oxford Union debate: We will not oppose you. Regardless of Bollinger’s “tough questions” yesterday, Ahmadinejad the Iranian president is bound to use his speech to a hall of “open-minded” Americans as a major public-relations victory – and to see it as a clear sign that his enemy is divided at its heart.
As Churchill said, “There is no place for compromise in war. That invaluable process only means that soldiers are shot because their leaders in council and camp are unable to resolve.”
He added, “In war the clouds never blow over; they gather unceasingly and fall in thunderbolts.” It was the falling thunderbolts of Nazi bombs that finally convinced the appeasers of the ’30s that they had been wrong. New York City has already gone through its Blitz. What more will it take before Bollinger and his cohorts admit their squalid mistake?