If the blood-drenched history of the century just past had taught American academics one thing, it should have been that the totalitarian impulse knows no accommodation with reason. You cannot change the totalitarian mind through dialogue or conversation, because totalitarianism -- however ingenious the superstructure of faux ideas with which it surrounds itself -- is a creature of the will and not the mind. That's a large lesson, but what should have made Ahmadinejad's appearance at Columbia University this week a wholly avoidable debacle was the school's knowledge of its own, very specific history.
We're then told about how Columbia warmed up to Italian fascism and German Nazism in the 1930s.
Arrogance, though, is invincible -- even to irony.
Then there's Bollinger's attack:
Bollinger clearly had an American audience in mind when he denounced the Iranian leader to his face as a "cruel" and "petty dictator" and described his Holocaust denial as designed to "fool the illiterate and the ignorant." Bollinger's remarks may have taken him off the hook with his domestic critics, but when it came to the international media audience that really counted, Ahmadinejad already had carried the day. The invitation to speak at Columbia already had given him something totalitarian demagogues -- who are as image-conscious as Hollywood stars -- always crave: legitimacy. Bollinger's denunciation was icing on the cake, because the constituency the Iranian leader cares about is scattered across an Islamic world that values hospitality and its courtesies as core social virtues. To that audience, Bollinger looked stunningly ill-mannered; Ahmadinejad dignified and restrained.
Ahmadinejad, 2. Columbia, 0. Great job, Bollinger. You were bested by an academic lightweight whom you yourself called a petty tyrant.