The appearance of Iran's leader in the Big Apple to attend the annual U.N. General Assembly overshadowed all other world leaders at the international talking shop on Manhattan's Turtle Bay. His invitation to speak at Columbia University set off the sort of media frenzy usually reserved for the hi-jinks of O.J. Simpson or Britney Spears.
Columbia students, alumni and anyone who's ever heard of the school weighed on the propriety of the event. While panels attended by heads of state at the university's school of international affairs do not usually merit time even on C-Span, this one was broadcast live around the world on CNN.
15 Minutes of Fame
Columbia's embattled President Lee Bollinger was subjected to opprobrium before the event for the bad taste of inviting a Holocaust-denier to the sacred precincts of the Morningside Heights campus. But after using his literal — as opposed to proverbial — 15 minutes of fame to lambaste the somewhat befuddled Iranian, Bollinger became an American idol and the subject of a laudatory editorial in The New York Times that applauded the university's judgment.
At the Columbia forum, Ahmadinejad lost points even among the hard left, which tends to like anybody who hates America, Israel or the Jews, by denying not the Holocaust, but the existence of homosexuality in his nation of approximately 70 million people.
Coming across as more of a fool than a demon or Hitler-wannabe, Ahmadinejad may have garnered some applause from some in the audience in the hall, it isn't likely he won too many new American friends.
On campus and some 70 blocks south outside the United Nations, a largely Jewish crowd of protesters raged at the Iranian's impudence, and a bipartisan parade of politicians lined up to denounce Ahmadinejad's calls for Israel's destruction, his country's support of terrorism and its oft-publicized nuclear ambitions.
As for the rights and wrongs of the Columbia event itself, suffice it to say that anyone who thinks that free speech has anything to do with whether an Ivy League university gives a platform to a man who leads a murderous fundamentalist dictatorship isn't thinking clearly. As a former Columbian myself, I bow to no one in my affection for the place, but the scolding from Bollinger notwithstanding, the school dishonored itself.
A university that won't let the armed forces of the United States recruit or teach in an ROTC program on campus ostensibly because it dislikes the army's position on gays (though the hard-core anti-military feelings and contempt for patriotism of much of the faculty has more to do with it than support for gay rights) was in no position to play the free-speech card for Ahmadinejad.
If anything, it's easy to suspect that Bollinger seized the opportunity to grandstand against the Iranian (albeit with a searing indictment that deserved applause) more for his own public-relations profile than anything else.
While a great deal of time was wasted debating the invitation of a world leader who has called for the genocidal extermination of a member-state of the United Nations — Israel — and whether giving him a platform is a defense of freedom of speech or a travesty of it, is there any real will, as opposed to rhetorical lip service, among both the chattering classes and our politicians to doing something about Iran?
Will the question of what measures the West is prepared to take to halt the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, as well as its subsidization of Islamist terror, fade back to a blur once the circus leaves town?
Though no one wants to think about the alternative to sanctions, French President Sarkozy himself stated at the United Nations that appeasement of Iran will lead inevitably to "war."
The French, like the Americans and the Israelis, believe that diplomacy can do the trick if it is accompanied by the sort of tough sanctions against Iran that the U.S. House of Representatives voted for this week. But for all of the fine talk about international cooperation, there is little sign that the opposition of both Russia or China to a genuine sanctions regime against the Islamic republic will be enacted this year or at any time in the future.
Nor, one suspects, will that change, until those nations become convinced that an already war-weary America means what it says about squelching the mullahs mad plans to gain nuclear capability.
Forget About Hitler
The problem here is that the Ahmadinejad show was just that: a farce that did little to illustrate the fanatical nature of his regime's religious extremism, its deep involvement in international terrorism or its willingness to use any weapons it gets its hands on to wipe out the State of Israel.
Historical analogies are, at best, inexact, and often misleading. Contemporary Iran is not a clone of Nazi Germany. But given its size, strength and the way it can use its support of Shi'ites throughout the Middle East, as well as via alliance with Sunnis who share its anti-Western and anti-Semitic beliefs, it doesn't have to be in order to be an extraordinary threat to world peace, even without nukes.
If Ahmadinejad, or someone like him, gets his finger on a nuclear button, it won't matter that he doesn't resemble Hitler and seems more comical than threatening. If he ever gets the means and the opportunity to match his motive to commit mass murder of the Jews of Israel (or some other non-Islamist target), who cares if the differences between Shi'ite Islamism and National Socialism are enormous.
As virtually all of the American presidential candidates have shown, it takes no courage to huff and puff about Iran and back sanctions. But does anyone really believe that the international community will unite behind them? Despite the general revulsion felt for the Iranian, is there any doubt that support for the use of force against Iran if it proves necessary simply doesn't exist yet in this country?
The Ahmadinejad show was good theater, but anything that doesn't help galvanize American public opinion into realizing that action on this issue is a matter of life and death is nothing but a meaningless sideshow. If, within the next few years, Iran's nuclear plans are allowed to become a reality, it will be too late for debate about Ahmadinejad, but more than enough time to ponder a new round of genocide.
Contact Jonathan S. Tobin via e-mail at: [email protected] com.