Columbia University’s President Lee C. Bollinger today told President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, “You exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator”, before turning over the lectern to him to deliver a speech.
Bollinger’s description of the Iranian President may well be correct. Different people and different countries have different views of political leaders. If US President George Bush were to go to Iran or Iraq, a speaker there may well have told him, “ You exhibit all the signs of an interfering and petty war monger”, and they may have been right too.
But were your remarks to Ahmadinejad in good taste, Mr. Bollinger ? Were they civil ?
Ahmadinejad was invited to speak at Columbia University, and as a guest speaker at the university, your remarks to him were uncivil.
If you thought that the Iranian President was a petty and cruel dictator, you were entirely within your rights not to invite him to speak to your students, which is precisely what demonstrators outside had all along been demanding.
But once you had invited the man, don’t insult him. That reflects on you and the university, in fact on the US.
You also gave Ahmadinejad the opportunity to score points that a number of Muslims may be able to relate to – the President of a Muslim state was insulted at an American university.