Columbia University president Lee Bollinger exercised his free speech rights by giving guest lecturer Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a good tongue lashing. It is doubtful his words swayed the Iranian despot – “OK, OK, the Holocaust happened, and I will dismantle my nuclear program just as soon as I get back home!” - but with his tough talk “Bollinger had clawed his way back to semi-respectability in polite society by insulting his guest - not the usual practice in polite society, but consider the depth of the hole Bollinger had dug for himself by insisting on being a good academic liberal,” as Dallas Morning News columnist Bill Murchison put it.
If all speech on college campuses was equally tolerated – Ahmadinejad had been invited to speak, and people heard him out instead of shouting him down – The Stiletto’s first instinct is to agree with New Yorker Pearl Atkins, 74, who lost relatives in the Holocaust: “Let him speak - let him open his mouth. This is America; people get their say here, not like in Iran. He only makes himself sound more stupid with every word anyway.” But it’s hard out there for a free speech advocate when foreign totalitarians are allowed to speak, but not home-grown totalitarians (AKA “conservatives” in academia).
The free-speech double standard notwithstanding, The New York Times editorial board is “dismayed” that Bollinger was “denounced and threatened … for inviting the Iranian leader to speak … [W]e can imagine no better way to lay bare the bankruptcy of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s views than to have him speak, and be questioned, at a university forum.”
All well and good, if Ahmadinejad had been willing to answer questions put to him, or to engage in a debate. But his appearance at Columba University was completely content free – a pointless exercise, because a favored rhetorical trick of his is to answer a question with a question (maybe he’s channeling his inner Jew).
For instance, in response to the question Ahmadinejad was asked on the Holocaust, he parried with a question of his own: “Why is it that the Palestinian people are paying the price for an event they had nothing to do with?”
The Stiletto will answer Ahmadinejad’s question with an answer, courtesy of Eli E. Hertz, whose blog, Myths and Facts, focuses on the Middle East:
Palestinian Arabs cast themselves as a native people in “Palestine” – like the Aborigines in Australia or Native Americans in America. They portray the Jews as European imperialists and colonizers. This is simply untrue.
Until the Jews began returning to the Land of Israel in increasing numbers from the late 19th century to the turn of the 20th, the area called Palestine was a God-forsaken backwash that belonged to the Ottoman Empire, based in Turkey. …
Most Arabs living west of the Jordan River in Israel, the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and Gaza are newcomers who came from surrounding Arab lands after the turn of the 20th century because they were attracted to the relative economic prosperity brought about by the Zionist Movement and the British in the 1920s and 1930s. …
Family names of many Palestinians attest to their non-Palestinian origins. Just as Jews bear names like Berliner, Warsaw and Toledano, modern phone books in the Territories are filled with families named Elmisri (Egyptian), Chalabi (Syrian), Mugrabi (North Africa). Even George Habash – the arch-terrorist and head of Black September – bears a name with origins in Abyssinia or Ethiopia, Habash in both Arabic and Hebrew.
So Ahmadinejad no longer need wonder why the Palestinans are left “holding the bag” for the Holocaust. They aren’t.