Spread on the desk before me are news accounts of atrocities committed by the Iranian regime. Here's one from 2004: Amnesty International protested the death penalty carried out on 16-year-old Ateqeh Rajabi, in the northern province of Mazandaran, for "acts incompatible with chastity." Reports are sketchy, but it seems the mentally impaired Ateqeh had sex with a boy. The boy was punished by 100 lashes and released. Ateqeh was hanged in the main square after the Iranian Supreme Court upheld her sentence.
The Guardian newspaper reports that hundreds of Tehran bus drivers who attempted to strike were beaten and arrested in July of 2007. Their families were targeted by plainclothes police, who burst into their homes and beat the women and children.
Iran Focus recounts that a 13-year-old girl was raped by her brother. She became pregnant and gave birth to a child. The result? An Iranian court sentenced her to death by stoning. Her brother received 150 lashes.
Two young men accused of homosexual acts were hanged in the public square of the town of Gorgan in 2005. They were 24 and 25 years old. Countless other men suspected of homosexuality have been held without trial and tortured to obtain confessions.
There is actually quite a catalogue of Iranian abominations in Columbia University President Lee Bollinger's "introduction" of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He cited the imprisonment of two Iranian/American scholars, the executions of 30 dissidents in just the last three months, widespread persecutions of those of the Bahai faith and other religious minorities, support for international terrorism, aid to militias currently killing American soldiers in Iraq, explicit and genocidal threats against Israel, Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons, Ahmadinejad's Holocaust-denying conference, and more.
The problem was the setting. Bollinger explained that the university's invitation grew out of its commitment to the ideal of free speech and the "almost single-minded commitment to pursue the truth." But do you advance the search for truth by giving a platform to liars and criminals? Bollinger gave away the absurdity of his own position by verbally doubting, as he dressed down the "cruel dictator," that Ahmadinejad would answer the questions posed. Well, if you know that your guest will not answer your questions, nor engage in the academy's favorite activity -- "dialogue" -- then the rationale for the invitation falls apart.
The larger case against issuing an invitation to such a malevolent figure is of course moral. The invitation implies respect -- which is exactly what Columbia University and all people of good will should be most eager to withhold from Ahmadinejad. Besides, this is not merely a matter of noxious opinions. The man has blood on his hands and looks forward, cheerfully, to much, much more. This is about behavior and about real flesh and blood suffering.
When compared with some members of the Columbia faculty, however, the maladroit Bollinger looks positively Churchillian. There was Dean John Coatsworth, who, faced with the indefensibility of Columbia's position, decided to go all out and announce that, yes, Columbia would have invited Hitler to talk to its students given the opportunity. Actually, lots of people did talk to Hitler. Many found him charming. Chamberlain thought he could be trusted. That worked out well.
Eric Foner, a professor with a long leftist pedigree, objected to Bollinger's mention of Iranian aid to Iraqi terrorists. "He accepts as true claims that are being made about Iran's role in Iraq, which are being put forward by people whose credibility on weapons in the Middle East has not always been 100 percent reliable," was Foner's snide take on the entire episode. Professor Richard Bulliet, an Iran expert who had a hand in bringing Ahmadinejad to campus, had told colleagues before the lecture that the Iranian leader was a "very reasonable speaker, a very effective debater." In the aftermath of the event, several professors denounced Bollinger's remarks as those of a "schoolyard bully" while remaining silent on Ahmadinejad's nauseating rant.
And then there was the applause. The New York Times reporter present estimated that 30 percent of the audience was pro-Ahmadinejad. Thirty percent. More than anything, that sends a chill down the spine.