Ahmadinejad at Columbia University

[This isn’t really scholasticism-related, but it’s too juicy to pass up.]

So the anti-Semite president of Iran is coming to give a speech at Columbia University. I’m torn here. Part of me thinks it was a terrible idea for him to come and for Columbia to invite him. Part of me wants to go and see what happens. What on earth does this man have to say?

What is your opinion, O readers mine? Should I go or should I stay? What question should I ask if I get a chance?


9 Responses to Ahmadinejad at Columbia University

  1. wtm says:

    Go, but wear kevlar.

  2. dwcongdon says:

    You’ve got to go. There’s no way you can pass this up.

  3. wtm says:

    But, wear kevlar!

  4. scholasticus says:


    check out the video where ahmadinejad says there are no homosexuals in iran. hilarious.

  5. hughvic says:

    Do you still think, after hearing Ahmadinejad, that his prepared remarks had nothing to do with scholasticism? I thought he gave a more or less standard convocation address, sounding themes from the dawn of the universities, when the scholastics stood on the shoulders of Islamic scholars. It was Ahmadinejad’s own little Didascalicon, and sounded rather like the prayers and homilies that used to be said by the abbots at the commencement of every academic year. Must’ve come off as absolute Martianspeak to the agnostic rationalists who’ve come to populate Columbia. I say this notwithstanding Ahmadinejad’s psychotic anti-Semitism and the likelihood that the swine spent much of his own 1979-80 academic year holding Americans at gunpoint. It’s so surprising, how God and Shakespeare insist on giving the best lines to the fools.

  6. scholasticus says:

    Yeah, I suppose one of the things that really irks me about Anselm is how he is constantly clamoring against American Capitalism to legitimate his own country’s ambitions for nuclear weapons.

  7. hughvic says:

    Yeah, I know it’s heresy to discuss other than Amadinejad’s sins, which in any event I’d have thought would’ve been pretty well known, even at Columbia, prior to his arrival. Haven’t you noticed that Ahmadinejad’s prepared remarks, the ones he came to Columbia to deliver, have escaped public comment entirely? I’m not talking about his characteristically crazed responses to the topical questions about women, gays and nukes, but rather I’m referring to his chosen subject, “the importance of knowledge, of information, of education” and the role of “‘piety’, ‘faith’ and ‘wisdom'” in the pursuit and application of science and learning. When he says that inquisitiveness, the “book” and the “pen” — and all science and knowledge — are God-given illuminations, such that with humility they ought to be consecrated to the glory of God, he is being strangely archaic, though one would think also strangely familiar to students of scholasticism. With regard to Ahmadinejad as warmonger, I for one would prefer to shoot first and ask questions later. But since the Columbia administration, rather than shooting him, saw fit to give the Devil his due in the name of academic inquiry, I find it fascinating that he actually wanted to talk about things near and dear to the ancient schoolmen, from Hugh of St. V. and John of S. clear back to your own Anselm, and to Augustine and Clement of A. Near and dear also, incidentally, to the founders of King’s College and of Columbia University, and to generations of Columbians stretching well into the 20th century. How peculiarly ironic that it should take a dangerous madman to pit the old academic dogma against today’s scientific materialist dogma, which succeeds so completely in blinding us that we can’t bring ourselves even momentarily to see what the fool had come, at great pains to the Columbians, to say about academic inquiry. It’s become cliche to remark that jihadis such as Ahmadinejad are throwbacks to the 9th century. Maybe that’s not far from the mark. Maybe some of them are, at long last, jack scholastics. Just thought you might want to take this possibility and kick it around a bit, either in your customarily irreverent manner or else perhaps in the name of whatever highfalutin rationale Pres. Bollinger used to justify putting Amadinejad into the same henhouse with several hundred differently mindbent undergrads. Whaddya say?

  8. scholasticus says:

    Here’s something interesting:


    Now to the point–I think the difference between Ahm. and the scholastics is that I have no confidence Ahm. actually means anything he says about the relationship of faith to knowledge. Dictators are always the ones who scream loudest about freedom, for instance.

  9. hughvic says:

    Thanks for the link to Tim Rutten’s LAT article. Best analysis I’ve seen to date of the folly at the “World Leaders Forum”. (To paraphrase Castoriadis, “three words, three lies”.) It seems that we agree that Ahm should not have been invited to Columbia, either last year or this year. Still I appreciate Rutten’s putting it into some historical context, though I think in fairness he should’ve mentioned Columbia’s strenuous post-war efforts to rid itself of anti-Semitism, to take refuge in the morally indifferent sciences, and to combat McCarthyism (ever tinged with Roy Cohn’s own homophobic and anti-Semitic self-hatred) with a full-throated defense of academic freedom. Together those initiatives amounted to nothing less than a reform of N. M. Butler’s Columbia, in a time of academic reform worldwide. This modernization, which of course took place in the shadow of Auschwitz and in the light of Los Alamos (intolerance out, positivism in), was so thoroughgoing as to constitute a kind of over-correction. Next door to Columbia, at the Jewish TS, the theologians were, by dint of the war, thrown into a theodical crisis from which has emerged a quasi veneration of the Holocaust that borders tragically on idolatry, or at least kitsch (a debate still raging in the pages of Tikkun); while meanwhile down the street, at Union TS, the Protestants, by way of apology, so flaggelated themselves over the history of Christian anti-Semitism and complicity with the Nazis as to utterly confuse religion with ethics. President Bollinger was right to point out that the legacy of the Holocaust reaches far beyond Europe and the Middle East. This is some seriously heavy context for the “debate” at Columbia, and in light of this context alone the invitation to Ahmadinejad, irrespective of his own reprehensible biography, was as sophomoric as the event itself turned out to be. So I agree with you about that. But I also agree with Mr. Rutten when he says that, “as a fundamentally secular institution, the American press has had a hard time coming to grips with the fact that Islamists like the Iranian president mean what they say and that they really do believe what they say they believe.” Of course I agree with you that we shouldn’t trust that Ahm means all that he says, but Rutten’s right when he says that we should try to distinguish the ingenuous statements from the disingenuous. Sure, Hitler was a fount of lies about peace-loving neighborliness, but he also spelled out his plans for Jews and Gypsies and for a Frankensteineque state religion with which to justify his attrocities. About those things, he meant what he said. Somewhere in the corridors of the U.S. government, people are spending every working hour of every day tring to profile Mahmound Ahmadinejad, to discern what he means from what he merely says. He shares Hitler’s hothouse mind and his hateful inflexibility, but he’s better trained than Hitler, and devout. When he makes scholastic noises, do the profilers even understand where he’s coming from? Might we attempt to discern his meaning, and therefore his intentions, the better perhaps to help frustrate them?

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