Sunday, September 30, 2007

Mark Steyn on Ahmadinejad at Columbia University

Mark Steyn on Ahmadinejad at Columbia, here. (For a blog comment, my forwarding of it to Steyn, and Steyn's reply, see the very end of this post.) Excerpts:

***
Saturday, September 29, 2007
OC Register

Democracies talk, tyrannies act

By MARK STEYN

"I'm proud of my university today," Stina Reksten, a 28-year-old Columbia graduate student from Norway, told the New York Times. "I don't want to confuse the very dire human rights situation in Iran with the issue here, which is freedom of speech. This is about academic freedom."

Isn't it always? But enough about Iran, let's talk about me! The same university that shouted down an American anti-illegal-immigration activist and the same university culture that just deemed former Harvard honcho Larry Summers too misogynist to be permitted on campus is now congratulating itself over its commitment to "academic freedom." True, renowned Stanford psychology professor Philip Zimbardo is not happy. "They can have any fascist they want there," said professor Zimbardo, "but this seems egregious." But, hey, don't worry: He was protesting not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presence at Columbia but Donald Rumsfeld's presence at the Hoover Institution.

At some point during this past week, it was decided that the relevant Ahmadinejad comparison was to Nikita Krushchev. The Soviet leader toured America in 1960, was taken to a turkey farm, paid a visit to Frank Sinatra and Co. on the set of "Can-Can" and pronounced the movie "decadent." And yet the republic survived. As one of my most distinguished fellow columnists, Peggy Noonan, put it in the Wall Street Journal, Krushchev's visit reminded the world that "we are the confident nation." And, as several e-mailers observed, warming to Noonan's theme, back then hysterical right-wing ninnies didn't get their panties in a twist just because a man dedicated to the destruction of our way of life was in town for a couple of days.

Whether or not this was a more "confident" nation in 1960, it's certainly a more post-modern nation now. I don't know whether Stina Reksten, as a 28-year old Norwegian, can be held up as an exemplar of American youth, but she certainly seems to have mastered the lingo: We've invited the president of Iran to speak but let's not confuse "the very dire human-rights situation" – or his nuclear program, or his Holocaust denial, or his role in the seizing of the U.S. Embassy hostages, or his government's role in the deaths of American troops and Iraqi civilians – with the more important business of applauding ourselves for our celebration of "academic freedom."

So much of contemporary life is about opportunities for self-congratulation. Risk-free dissent is the default mode of our culture, and extremely seductive. If dissent means refusing to let the Bush administration bully you into wearing a flag lapel pin, why, then Katie Couric (bravely speaking out on this issue just last week) is the new Mandela! If Rumsfeld is a "fascist." then anyone can fight fascism. It's no longer about the secret police kicking your door down and clubbing you to a pulp. Well, OK, it is if you're a Buddhist monk in Burma. But they're a long way away, and it's all a bit complicated and foreign, and let's not "confuse the very dire human rights situation" in Hoogivsastan with an opportunity to celebrate our courage in defending "academic freedom" in America. Ahmadinejad must occasionally have felt he was appearing in a matinee of "A Chance To Hear [Insert Name Of Enemy Head Of State Here]." Could have been Chavez, could have been Mullah Omar, could have been Herr ReichsfuhrerHitler himself, as Columbia's Dean John Coatsworth proudly boasted on television.

Lots of prime ministers and diplomats accepted invitations to meet with Hitler, and generally the meetings went very well – except for one occasion when Lord Halifax, the British foreign secretary, was greeted by the little chap with the mustache, mistook him for the butler, and handed him his coat. But even that faux pas is a testament to how normal thugs can appear in social situations. Civilized nations like chit-chatting, having tea, holding debates, talking talking talking. Tyrannies like terrorizing people, torturing people, murdering people, doing doing doing. It's easier for the doers to pass themselves off as talkers then for the talkers to rouse themselves to do anything.

As witness this last week. Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, was evidently taken aback by the criticism he got for inviting Ahmadinejad and so found himself backed into what, for a conventional soft-leftie of academe, was a ferocious denunciation of his star guest, dwelling at length on Iran's persecution of minorities, murder of dissidents, sponsorship of terrorism, nuclear ambitions, genocidal threats toward Israel, etc. For a warmup act, Bollinger pretty much frosted up the joint. The Iranian leader sat through the intro with a plastic smile, and then said: "I shall not begin by being affected by this unfriendly treatment." He offered many illuminating insights: There are, he declared, no homosexuals in Iran. Not one. Where are they? On a weekend visit to Kandahar to see the new production of "Mame"? Alas, there was no time for follow-up questions.

And afterwards Bollinger got raves even from the right for "speaking truth to power." But so what? It's like Noel Coward delivering a series of devastating put-downs to Hitler. The Fuhrer's mad as hell but at the end of the afternoon he goes back to killing, and dear Noel goes back to singing "The Stately Homes Of England." Ahmadinejad goes back to doing – to persecuting, to murdering, to terrorizing, to nuclearizing – and Bollinger cuts out his press clippings and puts them on the fridge.

The other day, National Review's Jay Nordlinger was musing about our habit of referring to some benighted part of the world's "humanitarian needs" and wondered when we'd stopped using the term "human needs," which is, after all, what food, water and shelter are. And his readers wrote in to state the obvious: That "humanitarian" label gives top billing not to the distant, Third World victim but the generous Western donor – the "humanitarian" relief effort, the "humanitarian" organizations, the NGOs, the Western charities: It's about us, not them. Bill Clinton's new bestseller on charity is called "Giving" – because it's better to give than to receive, and that's certainly true if the giver is busying himself with some ineffectual feel-good "Save Darfur" fundraiser while the recipient is on the receiving end of the Janjaweed's machetes. The Sudanese government appreciates that, as long as we're allowed to feel good about ourselves and to participate in "humanitarian relief," the killing can go on until there's no one left to kill. Likewise, Ahmadinejad knows that, as along as we're allowed to do what we do best – talk and talk and talk, whether at Columbia or in EU negotiations – his regime can quietly get on with its nuclear program.

These men understand the self-absorption of advanced democracies. The difference between Winston Churchill and Ward Churchill, another famous beneficiary of "academic freedom" who called the 9/11 dead "little Eichmanns," is that for Sir Winston talking was a call to action while for poseurs like professor Churchill it's a substitute for it.

The pen is not mightier than the sword if your enemy is confident you will never use anything other than your pen. Sometimes it's not about "freedom of speech," but about freedom. Ask an Iranian homosexual. If you can find one.

***
THE PERSECUTION OF HOMOSEXUALS

Dear Mark,

I posted a bit of your Columbia U Iran column up on my international law blog - well, quite a lot, actually - well, probably violated copyright law, to be honest - and received the following quite serious response back in the blog comments. (See below the asterisks.)

I am big fan of yours - something which caused a senior editor of ... well let's just say a very important book review to shake his head and say, "Ken, you have almost such exquisite taste, but you have this weakness for Mark Steyn" and, he added, "and AA Gill." Quite. All best. KA.

Anonymous [in the comments] said...

"Mark, I must be a little older than you. First of all, I remember the persecution of homosexuals in the US right into the 1970's. And, being a San Franciscan, I remember the national outrage at my city's adoption of gay culture in the 1980's. That wasn't so long ago, Mark. And now an Iranian leader from a different culture is mocked for not recognizing homosexuality in Iran. You know, it's quite possible he just doesn't know any.

"I can tell you this, Mark. I lived in Iran in 1975. Its people are in many ways the same as the rest of the world. Its culture is different, but there are a good many people there. The nation has suffered the trauma of a revolution and then had a terrible war inflicted upon it for eight long, bloody years. Iran is easily criticized from afar, from a Western perspective. But Mark, until you've visited a land and its people, preferably living there for a spell, your criticism is merely the passing off of opinions generated by the words and writings of others, many times told from the vantage point of bias and special interest.

"By the way, Mark, have you ever heard Ward Churchill speak in public? I've heard him speak at City Lights bookstore in San Francisco's North Beach. Again, all you've done here is recycle a quote you've read from sources other than your own. When you sit and listen to Mr. Churchill, you gain an understanding of his personal perspective. You may not agree with him, but that's an insight you would make first hand.

"My advice is to gain some firsthand knowledge before simply regurgitating opinions on subjects that interest to you."

MARK REPLIES:

Your commenter's a twit. He "remembers the persecution of homosexuals in the US right into the 1970s"? Okay, how many homosexuals were executed in New York or San Francisco or even Salt Lake City in the 1970s? That's what happens to homosexuals in Iran: they get sentenced to death. The inability to distinguish between "persecution" US-style and Iranian-style is a sign of a moral frivolity that would shame anyone who gave it a moment's thought. Oh, and by the way, Iran-wise, I have plenty of hands-on experience.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mark, I must be a little older than you. First of all, I remember the persecution of homosexuals in the US right into the 1970's. And, being a San Franciscan, I remember the national outrage at my city's adoption of gay culture in the 1980's. That wasn't so long ago, Mark. And now an Iranian leader from a different culture is mocked for not recognizing homosexuality in Iran. You know, it's quite possible he just doesn't know any.

I can tell you this, Mark. I lived in Iran in 1975. Its people are in many ways the same as the rest of the world. Its culture is different, but there are a good many people there. The nation has suffered the trauma of a revolution and then had a terrible war inflicted upon it for eight long, bloody years. Iran is easily criticized from afar, from a Western perspective. But Mark, until you've visited a land and its people, preferably living there for a spell, your criticism is merely the passing off of opinions generated by the words and writings of others, many times told from the vantage point of bias and special interest.

By the way, Mark, have you ever heard Ward Churchill speak in public? I've heard him speak at City Lights bookstore in San Francisco's North Beach. Again, all you've done here is recycle a quote you've read from sources other than your own. When you sit and listen to Mr. Churchill, you gain an understanding of his personal perspective. You may not agree with him, but that's an insight you would make first hand.

My advice is to gain some firsthand knowledge before simply regurgitating opinions on subjects that interest to you.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DWMF said...

I can guess what the second post said and why it was deleted by the admin. So I'll say it more politely.

Mr Steyn is absolutely right about the parlour pinks in Western society who go weak at the knees before oriental despots, blood-soaked or not. This is not a new phenomenom.

One does not have to totally immerse oneself in a society to appreciate it. Indeed, seeing it from the inside robs one of a certain perspective.

From what I know of Ward Churchill, I have no wish to hear his voice. Reading what he says in cold print exposes the true meaning, even if it was said with a smile.

"A man may smile and smile, and still be a villain." Shakespeare, I think.

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