October 19, 2007

Grab an imaginary donut, the thought police are working overtime on our nation’s campuses!

While Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent visit to New York’s Columbia University “speaks volumes about really the greatness of America,” according to George W. Bush, there is more wrong with this statement than just grammar.

Columbia University President Lee Bollinger’s vitriolic introduction of Ahmadinejad, the invited guest, only testified to a gross lack of hospitality and immaturity on the part of one of the United States’ most prestigious institutions of higher learning.

However, Bollinger’s rhetoric served its intended purpose: to make him look like the “big man on campus” by appeasing protestors serving as the thought police’s visible vanguard. Most of the demonstrators who gathered outside the lecture hall where Ahmadinejad spoke, along with the thousands assembled further away at the United Nations, represented various Jewish organizations. Some stood with signs bearing the Iranian leader’s picture, emblazoned with the words “Go to Hell.”

Still up in arms over Ahmadinejad’s call for further investigation into the Holocaust and for Israel to be wiped off the map—although no one cared when Palestine was effectively wiped off the map in 1948--they have the right to speak their minds. Just let them stand two miles away as is required when Bush comes to town.

Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman joined the maelstrom by decrying Ahmadinejad’s visit “because he comes with blood literally on his hands.” Oddly enough, Lieberman made no such utterances during any of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s numerous visits to the White House. The same Sharon who was indicted by a Belgian Court for his role in the murders of nearly 2,000 civilians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in 1982.

Regardless how one feels about a world leader’s rhetoric or policies, it is hard to imagine, were the situation reversed, an American leader would have received such an abysmal welcome in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

My personal experience at the Iranian Embassy in Istanbul, Turkey several years ago gave me a brief taste of Iranian hospitality. My husband and I were applying for tourist visas; as we were about to enter, a guard passed a hand-held metal detector over my husband. He merely looked at me and beckoned us to come in. As no female guard was present, he preferred to risk admitting me without a search rather than to take such liberties with a member of the opposite sex.

I stepped into the waiting room and no less than three men stood immediately to offer me their seats. Although we decided against traveling to Iran after the officer explained there would be a $60 fee for each application and a ten-day waiting period, I was nevertheless impressed by the treatment I received.

Yet higher education has become more about politics and less about real-world experience. It is more about censorship rather than exposing the minds of our future leaders to different viewpoints; more about belligerence than diplomacy. It is the new face of the thought police: the pro-Israeli lobby expanding its influence from Congress to the Quad.

Take for instance DePaul University’s recent decision to deny Norman Finkelstein tenure. He subsequently resigned. Finkelstein has accused certain pro-Israeli groups of using the Holocaust for political gain, including the justification of human rights violations against Palestinians.

Barnard College professor Dr. Nadia Abu El-Haj is in the midst of another tenure brouhaha. She wrote a book entitled Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society, a work which exposes how the Israeli government, in trying to build the case for a Jewish state, uses bulldozers to destroy the remains of other cultures.

“It isn’t good enough,” Alan F. Segal, a professor of Jewish studies at Barnard said of Dr. Abu El-Haj’s work. Dr. Abu El-Haj was the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship and fellowships at Harvard and the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. Ironically, Columbia University, as Barnard’s affiliate, will have the final say regarding Dr. Abu El Haj’s tenure.

If Columbia University officials do not exhibit any more backbone than was shown during the playground-style attack on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it does not bode well for Dr. Abu El-Haj. And if the thought police have their way, it does not bode well for the intellectual freedom of our nation’s students.