Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 25, 2007

Columbia University and evil dictators

Filed under: Academia,Fascism,imperialism/globalization,Iran — louisproyect @ 6:12 pm

I don’t think there is anything that I hate more than sanctimoniousness and there was plenty of it on display when Lee Bollinger’s sandbagged Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday. As the NY Times reported, “Mr. Bollinger praised himself and Columbia for showing they believed in freedom of speech by inviting the Iranian president, then continued his attack.” Bollinger was also praised by the ultraright media, starting with Rush Limbaugh:

Rah-rah, way to go! I apologize for being critical of you, Mr. Bollinger. I really do. But, on the other hand, where’s this been for five years?

One can only wonder whether Columbia University’s moral compass has been broken in years past since its aversion to evil dictators seems to be rather selective.

In 1933, Hans Luther, the German Ambassador to the United States, was the featured speaker at the Institute of Arts and Sciences at Columbia University. As he began to speak, a woman in the audience called out “Why did they burn the homes of exiled professors?” The NY Times reported that an usher and a cop pounced on her at the same time and dragged her out. Another two protesters were subsequently removed from the audience. After Luther finished his remarks, Russell Potter, the head of the institute, denounced them as “ill-mannered children.”

President Nicholas Murray Butler: did not care about Nazi official’s views

Nicholas Murray Butler, the president of Columbia University, was even more outspoken in his support of Hans Luther. After he learned of campus unhappiness with the invitation extended to the Nazi official, he made clear his determination to ignore it. He never would have dreamed of insulting Luther in the manner that Bollinger insulted Ahmadinejad. In an excellent paper titled “Complicity and Conflict: Columbia University’s Response to Fascism, 1933–1937“, U. of Oklahoma professor Stephen H. Norwood details Butler’s deference toward the Nazi official:

Dismissing the student criticism, President Butler indicated that he held Ambassador Luther in high esteem. He declared that Luther “is the official diplomatic representative to the Government of the United States on the part of the government of a friendly people,” and was entitled to “the greatest courtesy and respect.” Butler announced that the Nazi ambassador was a “gentleman,” and that Columbia would provide him with “a welcome appropriate to his distinguished position.” He was pleased to receive any guest like Ambassador Luther who was “intelligent, honest, and well-mannered”; he did not care what his views were.

When protestors attempted to pass out leaflets in front of the building where the Nazi ambassador was holding forth, the university had them arrested. So much for free speech. As might be expected, the NY Times was most deferential to Luther’s boss Adolph Hitler, who was described as saying that the differences between Poland and Germany were “not important enough to justify the shedding of blood.” Then as now you could always count on the newspaper of record for its probing analysis.

Perhaps you can excuse the university since the Nazi regime had not yet descended into the kind of murderous behavior that it became associated with later on. But by 1936 there could be no confusion. The labor movement and all opposition parties had been smashed and thousands of opponents of the regime had been imprisoned or executed. The moral stink of the Nazi regime was by then too rank to ignore.

Evidently the stink was not that great to persuade the university to turn down a 1936 invitation to help the Nazis celebrate the 550th anniversary of the University of Heidleberg, an event that the Columbia University teacher’s union and the Columbia Spectator strongly opposed. British universities were in the forefront of opposing this celebration, with Oxford and Cambridge turning the Nazis down. Unlike Columbia University, they couldn’t stomach the declaration of Berhard Rust, the German Minister of Education, that “It is the duty of the National Socialist student to create a National Socialist university.”

I can imagine that Professor Arthur Remy, who was chosen to represent Columbia, must have had a swell time at this bash. On June 27th he and a bunch of other professors from upstanding institutions like Cornell, Vassar, Yale and U. of Michigan did have to listen to a bunch of Nazi bigwigs, a small price to pay for all the Gemulichkeit. The April 28 NY Times reported:

Despite assertions made here that the event would have purely academic local significance, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and other Nazi functionaries will be among the most prominent hosts to the scholars and scientists who have been invited to represent the universities of the world.

Something tells me that Columbia’s Arthur Remy didn’t create a scene in the audience like the woman who wanted to know “Why did they burn the homes of exiled professors?”

Not everybody at Columbia was so mature and so restrained as Arthur Remy. Robert Burke of Youngstown, Ohio, who was the Junior President-Elect of the Columbia student body, was advised by the administration that it would be “in the best interests of all” that he not register for the Fall term, according to the June 29 NY Times. His crime was “taking part in a demonstration on May 12 at the home of Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University.” The students were protesting the university’s decision to go to Heidleberg. Burke, who was an amateur boxer and extremely popular on campus, crossed the line when he ruined President Murray’s alumni gathering. Dean Herbert E. Hawkes told the Times, “The demonstration on this occasion employed insulting, obscene and profane language and even invaded the foyer of the president’s home while he was entertaining at dinner the surviving members of the class of 1881.”

Without a doubt, Robert Burke was far too good for the likes of Murray Butler. Turning once again to Stephen H. Norwood, we learn:

President Butler, Dean Hawkes, and other Columbia administrators were personally uncomfortable with Burke, a “rugged face[d]” Irish-American from Youngstown, Ohio, who was working his way through Columbia. Burke had become a leader of the radical American Student Union (ASU) on campus, and in March 1936 had led a picket line of Columbia students to support striking building service workers employed by the university. Former Spectator editor-in-chief James A. Wechsler noted that Dean Hawkes “always lamented” that Burke’s “manners were not sufficiently elegant.”

Burke had struggled to earn his Columbia tuition, working in Youngstown for two years as a truck driver and for one year in a steel mill before he had saved enough to enroll. Burke had developed into a tough amateur boxer good enough to win New York’s Golden Gloves middleweight final, and he earned money at Columbia teaching young men to box. Almost alone among Columbia’s athletes, he became active in the movement to boycott the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He often worked thirty hours a week outside of class to pay his tuition, “roam[ing] through every conceivable job which promised a dollar or a meal.” He washed dogs, and even sold his blood.

The administration considered Burke’s apparently exemplary academic performance irrelevant in expelling him. President Butler insisted that the university was under no contractual obligation to give a diploma for “achievement and excellence” if it disapproved of a person “for any reason whatsoever.”

After Nazi Germany became an official enemy of the US, it would have been inappropriate to send somebody to a gathering such as this. As should be obvious from Lee Bollinger’s talking points about Iran killing US troops in Iraq, it is imperative to not stray too far from foreign policy imperatives about which the ruling class is united. Today, unfortunately, the consensus across the political spectrum is that Iran needs to be taught a lesson. The difference is only how severe that lesson should be.

When Bollinger told Ahmadinejad that he exhibited “all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator,” the Iranian president might have wondered whether great and cruel dictators are judged by a different yardstick at the university. After all, the Shah of Iran was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree only two years after the CIA organized a coup to overthrow Mossadegh. By any measure, the Shah was one of the most horrible dictators of the post-WWII period. One supposes that as long as he was on the State Department’s A list, Columbia University would be happy to put down the red carpet for the torturing beast.

President Grayson Kirk: enjoyed cozy relations with the CIA

Columbia University certainly had the right connections to recognize major talents like the Shah when it came to bestowing honors. In 1968, Columbia students published an eye-opening pamphlet titled “Who Rules Columbia” that established the university’s institutional connections to the CIA, especially with the Asia Foundation:

The Asia Foundation has received much if not all of its financial support from the CIA. It has a budget of about $7 million a year to provide “private American assistance to those Asian groups and individuals working for continued social and economic improvement.” The foundation has resident representatives in 14 Asian countries, with American offices in New York and San Francisco. At various times, representatives have been kicked out of Cambodia, Indonesia and more recently, India, reputedly for their various intelligence activities.

The person who makes the link between the Asia Foundation and Columbia is Grayson Kirk, president of the University. Kirk has been on the board of the Foundation for many years, and is one of its most influential trustees. In 1962, when Robert Blum, president of the Foundation, resigned, Kirk was appointed Chairman of the Nominating Committee of the Trustees, whose purpose was to select a new president. In his search for suitable candidates for this position, Kirk sought the advice and suggestions of Dean Rusk and Averell Harriman, a move which indicates the importance of the Foundation. He also encouraged recommendations from George S. Moore, President of the First National City Bank of New York, and A.L. Nickerson, Chairman of the Board of Socony Mobil Oil Company, Inc., concerning members of the bank and of Socony Mobil, which had experience in Asian affairs. One man who was proposed as a possible choice was Robert Amory, but Kirk himself is reported to have feared that he might bring embarrassment to the Asia Foundation. From 1952-1962, Amory was Deputy Director of the CIA.

The relationship between the Asia Foundation and Columbia is a reciprocal one. Since at least 1961, the Foundation has given grants to Columbia’s School of Journalism, recently financing the Japanese Science Writers’ Project and Fellowships for Asiatic Journalists. Grayson Kirk’s long and intimate association with the Asia Foundation suggests what an able and prominent supporter of the CIA this university president really is. It follows that many of his administrative decisions as President of Columbia University have also reflected the interests, priorities and concerns of the CIA. Certainly such decisions would not infringe on these concerns. Consider Kirk’s attitude toward the NSA (National Student Association)-CIA exposure: “One shouldn’t jump to conclusions that the people in these organizations were being used as spies.” The money was donated “more for propaganda purposes than for anything else.” Kirk’s only complaint about the CIA’s funding of non-governmental organizations was that “a certain amount of this seems to have been handled clumsily by people in Washington.”

Maybe one day we’ll find out the extent of Columbia University’s present day connections with government agencies, both covert and overt. As the drums for war beat louder and louder, it will be increasingly necessary for an isolated and discredited Bush administration to rely on ostensibly liberal and humanitarian figures, such as Ivy League presidents.

Just as the student protests of 1968 led to the unearthing of secret documents that revealed such ties, it is entirely possible that continued anger over the war in Iraq and future war with Iran might propel the students of today toward bolder actions that might put them in the proud tradition of people like Robert Burke.


  1. Excellent piece — thanks for this.

    What an unbearably self-righteous hypocrite Bollinger is. That man has never hesitated to roll out the red-carpet for dictators, puppets, and thugs. He’s welcomed Putin, Karzai, Talabani, Musharraf, and Vajpayee, to name a few. I must’ve missed all the blistering attacks he directed at them.

    And Bollinger’s antics weren’t limited to that burst of hot air before Ahmadinejad spoke. Last week, he personally convened the organizing meeting that formed the so-called “Columbia Coalition” and planned the protest. It was a truly epic act of pandering to the ruling class and its yelping press.

    Comment by dylan — September 25, 2007 @ 7:56 pm

  2. There is something to what you write.

    Then again, like the Nazis, Islamists are hopelessly Antisemitic and espouse conquest. Where they differ, at least just now, is in capability.

    Now, the Bushites may well oppose Iran for a variety of reasons, but one of them surely is Ahmadinejad’s explanation that he means to begin a reconquista of land lost by Muslims in Europe, land lost over the course, according to Ahmadinejad, of the last several hundred years.

    So, in my mind, the Holocaust denying, Antisemitic, anti-gay, anti-socialist, anti-woman Iranian Islamists are a force over which any rational person ought be reasonably concerned – especially when such people start playing with dangerous materials.

    Comment by Neal — September 25, 2007 @ 8:10 pm

  3. Elliot Abrams, the man at the Middle East desk of the National Security Council, wrote in 1997 in his book Faith or Fear: “there can be no doubt that Jews, faithful to the covenant between God and Abraham, are to stand apart from the nation in which they live. It is the very nature of being Jewish to be apart–except in Israel–from the rest of the population.”

    Comment by Tony — September 25, 2007 @ 11:09 pm

  4. Tony,

    I note that you likely obtained your quote from the book, The Israel Lobby. I note the following comment which addresses your quote:

    But Abrams never says anything remotely like that he feels himself “uniquely at one” with Israel. And not only doesn’t say that he is oblivious to America’s national interest, on exactly the same page of his book he says precisely the opposite (you can look it up an Amazon reader to check for yourself). Abrams specifies that there is no conflict between adhering to the Abrahamic covenant and being loyal to one’s country. Indeed, I would add that many very traditional Jews are fiercely loyal to the United States precisely because it gives them the freedom to pursue their unique traditions, without, for the most part, having people like Bromwich question their loyalty and belonging.

    Abrams’s comment is not, as Bromwich articulates and M & W seem to believe, about Israel, but with traditional Judaism’s belief that God has ordained that Jews are “a people who dwelleth alone” and who, to fulfill their religious obligations, must have a communal existence separate from the Gentile population. This isn’t exactly news to anyone familiar with traditional Judaism, or with the fact that Jews who follow tradition tend to send their kids to Jewish day schools, shop at kosher supermarkets, and otherwise necessarily maintain a degree of “apartness”, not out of hostility but out of the fact that traditional Judaism requires it–traditional Judaism is primarily a religion of actions, not beliefs, and mere belief in the precepts of Judaism doesn’t cut it if the communal institutions don’t exist to allow the religion to be practiced.

    So, it seems that the comment has been misinterpreted. More to the point, what, Tony, does your comment remotely have to do with Columbia inviting Ahmadinejad to speak?

    Comment by Neal — September 26, 2007 @ 12:06 am

  5. Ahmadinejad’s explanation that he means to begin a reconquista of land lost by Muslims in Europe, land lost over the course, according to Ahmadinejad, of the last several hundred years.

    Neal, do you have a source for that? Are you sure you aren’t confusing him with Osama bin Laden?

    Comment by e — September 26, 2007 @ 4:14 am

  6. Well done, Louis. I was livid when I read about Bollinger’s performance. As a high school teacher, I am constantly badgered about political buttons or materials which are in my office, or on my person. I am endlessly insulted by union bureaucrats and school district officials who believe me incapable of creating curricula that allows students to draw their own conclusions, and this nonsense only because I’m a marxist. But if you are an Ivy League College President, it is perfectly acceptable to stand up and rant like a ninny on behalf of the ruling class war criminals who run this country. It is perfectly okay to lead a public action against a visiting head of state, who, whatever we may think of him, would never have been the target of such a display were he say, the late Augusto Pincochet, or some of the other white supremists who come through this country and speak from university or other distinguished rostrums.

    This whole display was nothing but bad political theater on Bollinger’s part, no matter how much white liberals and psuedo left phonies cheer him on. It’s disgraceful for any educator to participate in forums which pre-frame or orchestrate political bullying, and Bollinger deserves a royal asskicking. His actions are worthy of the Ayatollahs he claims to oppose.

    Comment by Michael Hureaux Perez — September 26, 2007 @ 4:46 am

  7. I quote from Abrams, Neal, to oppose your stick figure view of history, where the only people who are “anti-Semites” are the enemies of Israel. Abrams is perfect for illustrating the point: check out your average Zionist and discover the mirror image of the anti-Semite. The fact that you write in opposition to what you yourself maintain has nothing “remotely to do with Columbia” proves the point. If it has nothing to do with this, why do you bother responding? You respond because you want to head people off from coming to the correct conclusion. Dual loyalty begat the Iraq War, just as it is trying desperately to begat a war with Iran.

    Comment by Tony — September 26, 2007 @ 10:36 am

  8. Tony,

    The Iraq War was the doing of Bush and his senior advisors, namely, Ms. Rice, Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Cheney. Such people are not Jewish and do not have dual loyalty. And, as noted, the quote regarding Mr. Abrams does not show what you intend either, as he is being misinterpreted, likely intentionally.

    I responded to you because I can spot a Jew hater a mile away.

    Comment by Neal — September 26, 2007 @ 11:13 am

  9. E,

    I certainly do have a source. Ahmadinejad himself stated:

    We need to examine the true origins of the issue of Palestine: is it a fight between a group of Muslims and non-Jews? Is it a fight between Judaism and other religions? Is it the fight of one country with another country? Is it the fight of one country with the Arab world? Is it a fight over the land of Palestine? I guess the answer to all these questions is ‘no.’

    The establishment of the occupying regime of Qods [Jerusalem]was a major move by the world oppressor [ the United States] against the Islamic world. The situation has changed in this historical struggle. Sometimes the Muslims have won and moved forward and the world oppressor was forced to withdraw.

    Unfortunately, the Islamic world has been withdrawing in the past 300 years. I do not want to examine the reasons for this, but only to review the history. The Islamic world lost its last defenses in the past 100 years and the world oppressor established the occupying regime. Therefore the struggle in Palestine today is the major front of the struggle of the Islamic world with the world oppressor and its fate will decide the destiny of the struggles of the past several hundred years.

    The Palestinian nation represents the Islamic nation [Umma] against a system of oppression, and thank God, the Palestinian nation adopted Islamic behavior in an Islamic environment in their struggle and so we have witnessed their progress and success.

    [Emphasis added.].

    In simple English, Ahmadinejad hopes to rekindle Islamic imperialism against Europe. On his tell, over the course of the last several hundred years, Islamic empires were forced to withdraw from their governance of large portions of what, today, is Russia, of Greece, of the Balkans, of part of what was Poland, of parts of what was Austria, etc., etc. – places that Islamic forces had conquered by their own imperialist formula and military prowess. Such rule of swaths of Europe is something which, to Ahmadinejad, is just, and a reconquista would set things right again, if his speech means anything. He views the fate of the struggle to destroy Israel “will decide the destiny of the struggles of the past several hundred years.”

    I have numerous sources but I think the above makes the point sufficiently well.

    Comment by Neal — September 26, 2007 @ 2:23 pm

  10. It’s too bad you couldn’t email this post to Ahmadinejad in Farsi before got up and spoke. He would’ve had a field day with this.

    Bollinger made himself look like a complete and total ass. And then Ahmadinejad got up, spoke, and made it even worse.

    Comment by Binh — September 26, 2007 @ 8:11 pm

  11. I think Columbia also gave the Shah of Iran an additional degree or academic award in 1977 when former Texaco board member Bill McGill was Columbia’s president. Also, the University of Michigan gave the Shah of Iran an honorary degree in 1949 and Harvard University gave the Shah of Iran an honorary degree in 1968.

    Comment by bob f. — September 27, 2007 @ 3:13 am

  12. Neal what you posted means nothing except your willingness to see what you want to see. All your doing is reviving the Dick Cheney-ite nonsense of a great Islamic Empire and trying to put a progressive sheen on it. As for the jew hater comment, though tony can undoubtedly defend himself I’d like to add that in my opinion resorting to calling people anti-semite is a don’t pass go, don’t collect 200 dollars, you lose thing to do.

    Comment by SGuy — September 27, 2007 @ 3:40 am

  13. SGuy,

    Perhaps you have a different interpretation of the words I quoted. I think they say exactly what I said they say. If you have a different interpretation that deals with the words actually used, please enlighten us.

    Comment by Neal — September 27, 2007 @ 11:09 am

  14. From e, who had problems posting comments yesterday:

    my point to Neal on the earlier thread (before this one) was that
    Ahmadinejad appeals to Persian nationalism at some points, and a
    pan-Islamic Umma at others.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 27, 2007 @ 12:46 pm

  15. If you’re dredging up old screeds, for completeness’s sake, you should have alluded to the 1958 “Red Hues In the Columbia Blue.”

    Comment by Grumpy Old Man — September 27, 2007 @ 2:08 pm

  16. e,

    You are correct that Iranian nationalism is also at play. I do not disagree with that at all.

    Comment by Neal — September 27, 2007 @ 2:17 pm

  17. thats your response neal? is that it, we’re to believe everything a politician says? or rather, to give it an interpretation which serves an agenda. Rereading it again Im only more convinced, he talks about a struggle between Islam and the West, yes, he is an Islamist, yes, he recounts history, yes, accurately yes of course with his bias factored in. He then states what the Islamic world has suffered lately and how this suffering will end. To state that his comment about centuries of struggle means ‘And lets take back Eastern Europe’ is a major running jump to a conclusion. If we want to talk about what politicians say though Neal, then your kinda screwed here because they keep saying in Iran that they’re not going to pursue nuclear weapons, yet you yourself have made a comment of your skepticism in that regard.

    Comment by SGuy — September 27, 2007 @ 4:22 pm

  18. Bollinger has been pretty good at walking the tightrope in the past over Mideast issues. He is in a bit of a bind. The university must give the appearance of pushing the envelop in order to attract bright young people like the two women in my Turkish class who went to report on the Ahmadinejad meeting. Both are secular Jews and both lean to the left. For them and for future students like them, it is a feather in Columbia’s cap for a meeting like this to take place. On the other hand, there are lots of alumni with deep pockets who are hardened Zionists. Bollinger was trying to play to both constituencies and fell off the tightrope in the process. Columbia will survive this fiasco but I think that Bollinger might not be around that much longer. When you have people like Rashid Khalidi calling him an embarrassment in the NY Times, that’s something that will get the board of trustee’s attention. Frankly, I think the university was much better served by his predecessor George Rupp.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 27, 2007 @ 4:41 pm

  19. SGuy,

    I take your point that we have a politician speaking. So, perhaps he is just doing what politicians do. Maybe.

    Then again, he is part of a government which has said the same thing – again and again and again – since the time of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, who wrote treatises on the topic. So, when I hear a politician saying something, I ask myself, what line of thinking is he (or she) tapping into and, in this case, I say he is speaking consistently with what the Islamist of Iran have said since the time they seized control of the country – in fact, even before that time.

    According to Ayatollah Khomeini:

    Islam’s jihad is a struggle against idolatry, sexual deviations, plunder, repression, and cruelty. The war waged by [non-Muslim] conquerors, however, aims at promoting lust and animal pleasures. They care not if whole countries are wiped out and many families left homeless. But those who study jihad will understand why Islam wants to conquer the whole world. All the countries conquered by Islam or to be conquered in the future will be marked for everlasting salvation. For they shall live under [God’s law]


    Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those [who say this] are witless. Islam says: Kill all the unbelievers just as they would kill you all! Does that mean that Muslim should sit back until they are devoured by [the unbelievers]? Islam says: Kill the [the non-Muslims], put them to the sword and scatter [their armies]. Does this mean sitting back until [non-Muslims] overcome us? Islam says: Kill in the service of Allah those who may want to kill you! Does this mean that we should surrender [to the enemy]? Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to paradise, which can be opened only for holy warriors!


    There are hundreds of other [Koranic] psalms and hadiths [sayings of the prophet] urging Muslims to value war and to fight. Does all that mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim.

    Source: “Islam Is Not a Religion of Pacifists,” by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini(1942).

    I might add that such was not a speech. It was a well considered and well thought through essay. And, it is one of many on the topic.

    Comment by Neal — September 27, 2007 @ 7:12 pm

  20. Sguy,

    Oh, I forgot this one last gem from the noted book by Ayatollah Khomeini:

    Islam makes it incumbent on all adult males, provided they are not disabled and incapacitated, to prepare themselves for the conquest of [other] countries so that the writ of Islam is obeyed in every country in the world…

    In this, Khomeini is paraphrasing well known Islamic injunctions (from the classical period) to fight and extend the portion of the world ruled by Muslims in accordance with Islamic law.

    Please note that my purpose here is not to indict or condemn Islam. My purpose is to explain the ideology of those who are ardently impassioned toward the Iranian Revolution – to explain what would likely be believed by a true believer. And, I am not saying that what I quote is all they believe. I am, rather, saying that the above quoted material is part and parcel of what certain Iranians – at least the true believers which may well include some or even a very large percentage of its ruling religious clique – likely believe, if we go by what they say and write.

    Comment by Neal — September 27, 2007 @ 7:46 pm

  21. There is not much point in quoting Khomeini about the desire to spread Islam, even by force of arms. Iran is a very weak country that has more to worry about being invaded than vice versa. That is what is so criminal about Bollinger’s rhetoric, which mimics the White House. It makes the victim look like the criminal. You can really only judge states on the basis of their acts, not their words. After all, in my post I referred to Hitler pledging his desire for peace in 1933. You know how hollow that was.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 27, 2007 @ 7:50 pm

  22. Louis,

    The point of quoting Khomeini and Ahmadinejad is to understand them as they are, not as they might be imagined.

    Now, it may be true that Iran is not a capable conventional threat to the US at present or, perhaps, even for the foreseeable future. That may well be true. Or, it may prove not to be so. Time will tell.

    That Iran has fewer weapons, a less potent military, is poorer and has a less educated population than that of the US, I think we can take as a given. That such is the decisive issue remains to be seen.

    Consider: the very potent military of the US is unable to control Iraq. I take that to mean that there is more to disputes than military prowess, education, weaponry and wealth. And, it remains to be seen whether, to quote one Islamists, their way of thinking is stronger than ours. About that, I do not know the answer.

    What I do not doubt is that Iran’s Islamists believe in expanding the rule of Islam to the extent they can – and to the entire world is that proves possible. I think that such is considered a categorical imperative, in their way of thinking, which means that they are almost certainly doing all that they can to expand their power. I think it, in fact, to be a fact.

    Your way of thinking appears to be that because, on paper, the US is stronger, that Iran will not view the matter in a different way. Maybe the Iranians have miscalculated the situation. However, knowing what they think is important or there is no way to know what they think. Instead, we have a form of religious self-criticism – something strange for an atheist -, where, like the prophets, you say that we have sinned (i.e. by imperialism), which is the sum and substance of your position, as I see it. To me, that is insufficient.

    Now, I am not saying that the West lacks imperial aims. That is a very different question. What I am saying is that it makes no sense to ignore what Iranian Islamist intend. Where two parties have a dispute, the only way to understand the dispute is to understand both sides, not to dismiss what one side says. To me, that amounts to closing one’s ears to what one does not want to hear.

    Again: there are two sides to the dispute and understanding what each side thinks – and what makes them tick – is important. In fact, it is essential.

    Comment by Neal — September 27, 2007 @ 8:41 pm

  23. The same day that Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia, so did Berdimuhammedow, President of Turkmenistan (http://www.columbiaspectator.com/?q=node/26936), an event that received zero coverage in the mainstream media. Turkmenistan is a one-party state with a human rights record that makes Iran look like almost a liberal democracy by comparison (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_Turkmenistan). But Turkmesistan is also a US ally, so Bollinger remained silent in this case.

    Comment by Phil Gasper — September 28, 2007 @ 2:56 pm

  24. Phil,

    Three points.

    One. No one from Turkmenistan was invited, so far as I know, to speak at Columbia University. So, it is not clear why one would expect a comment about that country, which is one of a great many tyrannies.

    Two. Since the world is filled with evil, one has to choose. Iran’s problem is not only that it is fairly brutal – perhaps not quite as brutal as Turkmenistan but brutal nonetheless – but that its ruling ideology appears to be directed toward remaking the intentional scene, as my quotes from Ahmadinejad and the former Ayatollah Khomeini seem to suggest.

    Three. Of course, I see nothing wrong with pointing out the brutality of Turkmenistan. That is a fair thing to do. I join you in wanting to shine the light on its brutality. But, that does not mean that everyone needs to join us.

    Comment by Neal — September 28, 2007 @ 4:47 pm

  25. Neal, can’t you read? Phil posted a link to a Columbia Spectator article about this dictator being invited to speak at the college. Here’s more:

    Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov, President of Turkmenistan
    Date: September 24, 2007 from 9:00 am to 10:00 am EDT
    Location: Columbia University Morningside Campus Italian Academy, Teatro

    A keynote address by Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov of Turkmenistan. A question and answer session with the audience will follow.

    Co-sponsored by the Harriman Institute.

    To register and for more information please visit http://www.worldleaders.columbia.edu

    Comment by louisproyect — September 28, 2007 @ 4:50 pm

  26. Louis,

    I stand corrected. I am not sure that I agree with the wikipedia analysis but, that said, there would be nothing wrong with also condemning Turkmenistan’s leader. His country, like Iran, is brutal and not a home of any tolerance. In fact, it, like Iran, is downright intolerant.

    I think, however, that the issue with Iran is that it is all of that plus it has a vision about changing the world to its liking – where an atheist like you would be most especially brutalized and oppressed. That, I reiterate, is why it is important to examine the ideology of the likes of Ahmadinejad. If his views and those of the late Khomeini represent the real thinking of the country’s leadership, they pose a danger not only to themselves but to the world.

    Without wanting to make an ideological comparison of the Islamists with the fascists or Nazis but merely for comparison’s sake, I note: before WWII, it was clear that fascist Italy was brutal. However, it was Nazi Germany which was taking active steps consistent with its ideology toward conquest of others. They, as it turned out, dragged Mussolini’s Italy along – not the other way around.

    Comment by Neal — September 28, 2007 @ 5:25 pm

  27. Columbia’s Long History Of Dictator-Loving

    Wonderfully enough, on the very same day Columbia president Lee Bollinger was castigating Ahmadenijad, the dictator of Turkmenistan was speaking elsewhere at Columbia. Yet Bollinger didn’t seem upset about this at all. Huh. Meanwhile, it turns out Col…

    Trackback by A Tiny Revolution — September 29, 2007 @ 10:16 pm

  28. This started out as a commentary on Columbia’s inviting Ahmadenijad to speak. Regardless of his views and your analyses of the politics, he should have been heard respectfully. Pres.Bollinger was remiss and totally declasse in his manner.
    As a Columbia graduate, I expect more of this school.

    Comment by Ethe — October 1, 2007 @ 2:22 am

  29. ost “The Iraq War was the doing of Bush and his senior advisors, namely, Ms. Rice, Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Cheney.”

    I think the true beginnings or foundation of the Iraq war was the doing of Bremer and his co-collaborators when they wrote the doctrine of pre-emption. The document clearly outlines the U.S. interest in the region and discusses that barring an attack on the U.S. it would be very difficult to accomplish the goals outlined.

    Comment by blue — October 1, 2007 @ 6:40 pm

  30. In response to an earlier post “The Iraq War was the doing of Bush and his senior advisors, namely, Ms. Rice, Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Cheney.”

    I think the true beginnings or foundation of the Iraq war was the doing of Bremmer and his co-collaborators when they wrote the doctrine of pre-emption. The document clearly outlines the U.S. interest in the region and discusses that barring an attack on the U.S. it would be very difficult to accomplish the goals outlined.


    Comment by blue — October 1, 2007 @ 6:41 pm

  31. Sigh… for the record, Neal, I have become pretty adept in recent months at spotting Palestinian-, Iranian-, Iraqi-, Syrian-, and Lebanese-hating, Jewish supremacists a mile off too! And, like more and more people these days, the old Zionist slur doesn’t faze me in the least.

    On a related note: the true beginnings of the Iraq War is a little document entitled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm”. Available on the Internet!

    Comment by Tony — October 2, 2007 @ 1:10 pm

  32. You forgot to mention the donation from mussolini that built the Casa Italiana at columbia.

    Comment by The Other — October 2, 2007 @ 4:34 pm

  33. Tony,

    I have quoted people writing what they think. Are my quotes wrong or out of context? No. In fact, I have quoted in context. And, what I quote supports exactly what I stated. In any event, the mindset of Iran’s leading political party is warlike and imperial, as a matter of religious principle.

    The theocratic Iranian regime was founded by a man with a 7th Century view of the world. Do not take my word for it because that is his view as well. And, now Mr. Ahmadinejad appears to hold similar views. That has to do with them, not with Israel and not with me.

    If and when you have something intelligent to say, I shall respond. If not, I can only say that your assertions are absurdly stupid.

    Comment by Neal — October 2, 2007 @ 10:07 pm

  34. […] another front, Louis Proyect correctly notes that Columbia has played host to a number of evil dictators in previous years, not always making […]

    Pingback by Dictators at Columbia « ProgressiveHistorians: History For Our Future — October 4, 2007 @ 5:28 am

  35. As iranian i can just say:it is a shameful article to compare the progressive shah with evil ahmadinejad.
    shah made the white revolution 1963, freed women from islamic dogma and gave them full rights in iranian society. Shah defended all religious minoroties in iran like jews and bahai s against mullas like khomeini and now you are comparing him with ahmadinejad. Just sham just shame are you continueing the way of jimmy carter?

    Comment by khosro fravahar an iranian — October 4, 2007 @ 10:34 am

  36. I am not an academic, but I’ve been a fan of Louis for a while now and I would just like to add my thoughts to the absurdity of this debate, especially in regards to the comments made by Neal.

    First off, Khomeini is dead, so who gives a rats ass what he said.

    Second, Ahmadinejad has almost no power inside Iran. He doesn’t control the armed forces and has limited legislative powers inside Iran itself. He’s the Iranian equivalent of the Queen of England. The man with real power in Iran is the supreme leader Ali Khameni, and as far as I know he hasn’t said anything about wanting to take over europe or whatever nonsense neal said.

    It should be mentioned that Irans former president Mohammad Khatami tried to visit an american university last year and was called an extremist by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Daniel Pipes. The man who denounced Osama Bin Laden and tried impement democratic reforms inside Iran was called an extremist. These are the same people who call Tariq Ramadan an extremist. As far as the neocons are concerned there is no such thing as an islamic moderate. Unless they completly renounce there beliefs like Irshad Manji or Ayaan Hirsi Ali your unaccepatable.

    In case your wondering Neal why Tony is angry with you, it’s because of your completly condescending tone. He shows you s quote of what someone actually said and you use the dodge of “Oh it was taken out of context” and then call him a Jew hater.

    By the way, Rumsfeld and Cheney may have implented it, but it’s no secret that the main planners were Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith and the aformentioned Mr. Abrams. Why is Tony a Jew Hater for pointing this out.

    In any case Louis is absolutely right that Bollingers comments count as a classic case of sucking up to power. Imay not like Ahmadinejad any more than you do, but that doesn’t mean I have to support pompous hypocrits.

    Comment by Dave — October 8, 2007 @ 3:59 am

  37. Tears ran down my face with every word Bollinger said. As an Iranian who lives in Iran, I thank him for the bottom of my heart.

    Comment by Azi — October 10, 2007 @ 3:16 am

  38. Really, you cried over a self-flagulating jackass sucking up to the power structure in Washington D.C.

    I understand Ahmadinejad is not very popular right now inside Iran and had Bollinger shut and acted with some decency and politness Ahmadinejad would have continued to lside into the realm of irrelvance. Instead he gave him a shot in the arm for his next relection campaign.

    If your really against Ahmadinejad you’d denounce worthless twits like Bollinger who give him credibility he doesn’t deserve.

    Comment by Dave — October 10, 2007 @ 3:56 pm

  39. This may seem like a trivial matter, but sorry for the really bad spelling errors. I was in to much of a hurry.

    I would also like to say Azi that I apologize if my tone sounded insulting. I’m sure yuor comment came from sincere place, it just seemed a little misguided.

    As you probably know there is a certain group of people here in the U.S. who want to bomb your country. I think we can agree that this would lead to a disasterous result and people like Bollinger only give these people more ammunition.

    Comment by Dave — October 10, 2007 @ 4:10 pm

  40. Folks
    why argue with Neal?…its clear he is here to demonise president Ahmadinejad and Iran, and will not alter his view. He sounds like a servant of Israel.

    Comment by brian — October 16, 2007 @ 12:54 pm

  41. ‘I understand Ahmadinejad is not very popular right now inside Iran’

    Dave, why dont you like Ahmadinejad? What do you really know of him? Look at how americans view Chavez….the media spends its pages demonising, which provides americans with their opinions on personalities..
    I ses little wrong with Ahmadinejad. He is far mor intelligent than Bush, has launched no wars of aggression (much as Neal would wish he did), has sided with Chavez.
    Demonisation has become the order of the day, and people seem unable to tell they are being duped.

    Comment by brian — October 16, 2007 @ 12:59 pm

  42. “What an unbearably self-righteous hypocrite Bollinger is. That man has never hesitated to roll out the red-carpet for dictators, puppets, and thugs. He’s welcomed Putin, Karzai, Talabani, Musharraf, and Vajpayee, to name a few. I must’ve missed all the blistering attacks he directed at them. ” by dylan/

    I wonder what makes you claim that Putin, Karzai or Vajpayee come under your ignorant labels of “dictators, puppets and thugs” as these people wouldnt fit those labels to the sane and lucid mind. Obviously, your grasp on the geopolitical politics is as dismal as your ability to discern right from wrong.
    Karzai, Putin and Vajpayee are all democratically elected representatives. Vajpayee in particular is an elected representative of the people of India under the strictest and fairest election in any part of the world and represents the choice of close to 1 billion people. Unlike your disgustingly ignorant slander.

    Please get a clue before your lamblast Bollinger or other world leaders about who Ahmedinajad is the kind of despotic regeime that he is in charge of before hurling wild accusations at Bollinger or Columbia University.

    Comment by Prithvi — March 1, 2008 @ 7:54 pm

  43. I am Pakistani citizen and i m 17. i have read some of the comments written by neal,khosro fravahar,brian and dave. So i would like say that after 30 years islamic revolution has bought disgrace to iran. I 100% agree with khosro fravahar who is the real supporter of the last persian emperor shah.He is considered as the most powerful and graceful muslim king of iran.When he came to power he modernized iran. He abolised and eliminated the extremism,terrorism and exploitation across the country. He brought the white revolution commonly known as peaceful revolution. Life was wonderful in iran during shah’s reign. Now it has been 30 years iran has lost its respect from the west and usa and ofcourse israel. I call President Nejad who has been re-elected as president last year is not really the president.He’s the mass murderer of innocent people of iran. I saw thousands of people being slaughtered by his regime. People were demonstrating anti government slogans. They want nejad to step down. Meanwhile usa and european union has sanctions agaisnt irans nuclear programme which they suspect that they are developing an atomic bomb but iranians officials have insisted that their main aim is to use nuclear energy for genenrating electricity. At the end of last year i heard that their secret nuclear ambitions documents were revealed and it stated: a work plan for development a neutron initiator,used to detonate a bomb. Iran has denied it. Which means that they are lying. Iran has created fear in the global community. Islamic republic of iran is ruining the peace of the world. They have targeted israel which is their sworn enemy. If the israeli prime minister Benjamin Nethenyahu is insisting that iran must suspend its nuclear programme immediately its no use. Iran is trying to threat west, usa and israel. I just want to say that Israel must say this in robust attitude. “Go ahead throw bomb on us. We dont fear death. What are you waiting for go ahead show us what you got”. Then those iranian extremists will have fear in the hearts that they have heard the brave respond from their country’s enemy. For this iran will no longer throw a bomb on them. Their nuclear enrichment and programme will be suspended. So the west and usa must use these this threatning message boldy if iran is going to throw a bomb. Iranian government and its islamic regime will lose its hope, enthusiasm, confidence and hope. So i believe in one thing that shah will return to this world after some long time. And he will rule Iran once again their will be peace everywhere and the white revolution will dominate the whole iran once again. Khamenei and all other racists islamic regime will be wiped away. Shah will never bring cruelty. Then the relations between iran with west,usa and israel will be restored. I believe this will happened. Khamenei and other iranian muslim extremists will bow down in front of shah He will have his revenge from the one who exiled him from his country. Shah stands for truth. I always pray to God that May shah rest in beautiful heaven forever. He rejoined his family his royal parents and his former officials and chiefs who were executed by islamic mullahs and terrorists. But he will return to this world soon. Thank you.

    Comment by saif ullah chaudhry — January 6, 2010 @ 12:41 pm

  44. […] have to wonder the school deserved such a reputation. Of course, this is the same university that was in bed with Nazi officials in the […]

    Pingback by Neshoba « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — August 10, 2010 @ 6:02 pm

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