The Columbia Critic

A place to debate anything we want to. We'll talk Columbia campus issues. We'll talk up the homosexual problem. We'll talk China. And we'll talk without resorting to partisan rhetoric. We may be left. We may be right. But we aren't going to be quoting any party line. We're leading the discussion. But feel free to chime in. Hannity and Colmes this is not.

Monday, October 01, 2007

alumni to alumni

Dear xxxxx,

Although I think the decision to invite Ahmadinejad was wrong, I think Caroline Glick's article is fundamentally flawed. I think it is clear that Columbia itself is not anti-Semitic, Bollinger is not, and providing a platform for Ahmadinejad to speak does not constitute a legitimization of holocaust denial. It bothers me that Columbia is presented as synonymous with a terrorist and a dictator, merely by extension of an invitation; it may have been selfish, hurtful, and ill-timed that Bollinger wanted to confront one of the more prominent dictators face to face, but I fail to see how Columbia now represents "depravity by renouncing the intrinsic sanctity of human life".

Glick's article was written as if she did not know what the content of the speech was, as if it was still weeks ago, transcripts unavailable, videos of the speech not at her fingertips. Whether or not the University should have invited Ahmadinejad is a separate issue, but Bollinger took the President to task, directly criticizing the Iranian president's claims that the Holocaust was a fabrication, that Israel should be wiped off the map, etc. In light of the controversy, Columbia, its president, and its students intellectually mauled the speaker, co-workers have been approaching me all week saying "Wow. Your school's president wiped the floor with Ahmadinejad". Bollinger was absolutely correct that Ahmadinejad looked absolutely foolish, in every question posed to him at the end of the speech the answer was nothing short of ridiculous, the logic nothing short of profoundly flawed. I think Iranians will be hard pressed to re-elect a man whose government already failed to be re-elected, and who shows such intellectual contempt. We heard Ahmadinejad claim that the Holocaust is like medieval scientific belief, that more research needs to be done, what was true then may not be true now; to anyone even remotely intelligent, this makes no sense and he was rightfully chided for such a poor answer, he should have been challenged to say "your election victory is history, does it need to be re-examined for historical accuracy, could you perhaps NOT be the President of Iran?, what is true then is not true now?". We heard him claim that homosexuals do not exist in Iran, another ridiculous claim that those in Iran will also know to be a lie, it wasn't too long ago that two homosexuals were put to death; homosexual relationships are explicitly enumerated in Iranian law to be punishable by death (these laws don't exist if they don't ever happen).

I agree with you, he should have never come to the University, but I strongly disagree that his being allowed to speak is even remotely an acknowledgment of his fanatical beliefs. Glick says that Columbia's forum made genocide a legitimate subject of debate, again, during the speech, Bollinger, the head of SIPA, and student questions made it explicitly clear that even the mere question of the historical accuracy of the Holocaust was dubious. An invitation is not an endorsement or a legitimizing factor. Was the invitation putting Jewish lives on the table and under debate, I don't think so, but not being Jewish perhaps I lack the capacity to see that that is not the case. Saying that the school believes that genocide is a reasonable subject for debate seems to me to be a spurious claim that is not even a logical conclusion one could make.

Glick's main criticisms of the University lie not in the shortcomings of the University, but in the same enumerated list that you and I have stated in our own emails to Bollinger, the shortcomings and idiocy of the Iranian president. Glick's article in turn reads like your average FOX News broadcast, that Columbia actively teaches a far-left political worldview and is actively engaged in stifling conservative ideology and Zionist beliefs. As a Columbia graduate who attended the school during a lot of major media firestorms, I can only help but feel that Glick is out of touch from the University, that her call to dissociate from the University are based on a selective representation of events on campus, a flawed belief that Columbia now represents anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

In my time at Columbia, we have seen speakers ranging from John McCain, David Horowitz (who I would say is rather far to the right), John Ashcroft, Alan Dershowitz, Benjamin Netanyahu, Norman Finkelstein, and Hilary Clinton. The reality is that Columbia is not anti-Semitic, it has a vibrant Jewish community and Hillel, and is if anything vocally Zionist and slowly becoming increasingly conservative. To be honest, while trying to recall speakers that had come to Columbia during the time I was there, there are few prominent/controversial "liberals" other than Finkelstein that immediately come to mind. The majority of speakers are great men and women who have been positive catalysts for change in their field, be they progressive heads of historically repressed states, Nobel Prize winners, or great artists. The claim that Columbia somehow is closed off to conservative speakers, at least in my opinion, is ridiculous. It was only a few months ago that Tamar Jacoby spoke to the journalism school. Ideas like that are perpetuated by those on the outside of the school; because Columbia has not invited a Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin, or Ann Coulter, is not an indication of an aversion to conservative voices.

The media's negative portrayal of Columbia is largely a product of... the media. I can't even describe the overwhelming number of students, professors, alumni who scratched their heads when Columbia was deemed to be rampantly anti-Semitic based on a documentary created by a pro-Israel corporation, largely hearsay and unsubstantiated accusations against professors, and anti-Zionist lecture material and academic publications by a few MEALAC professors. The MEALAC controversy was fueled by papers like the NY Sun, the poor grievance policy and subsequent composition of the investigative committee, poor decision making on the Professor's part and Zionist campus sentiment. What was not heavily publicized was the sentiment expressed by a large number of... for ex. Professor Massad's Israeli and Jewish American students that they found him to be an extremely engaging, thought provoking, and excellent professor. Nor were Massad's reactions, clarifications, and the opinions of other Columbia professors like J-School Dean, Ari Goldman presented with the same fervor. It should be clear that anti-Semitism is not the same as anti-Zionism, one is pure racism, the other is cultural and historical disagreement. The same goes for Ahmadinejad's invitation; an invitation is not the same as an acknowledgment or agreement of beliefs. Was the invitation unnecessary, not sound judgment in exercising free speech, and largely insensitive to military veterans and the Jewish population? Sure, there is very little disagreement. I have to strongly disagree with the Columbia name being further tarred and feathered and being made synonymous with the name of a dictator.


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