The biggest show on Broadway this week wasn't any of the plays or
musicals packing in the tourists in a midtown theater. Rather than "The
Drowsy Chaperone," "Spamalot" or the revival of "A Chorus Line," the
hottest ticket was to the traveling show starring the man whom The New
York Post dubbed a "pint-sized Persian" Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
president of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The appearance of Iran's leader in the Big Apple to attend the annual
U.N. General Assembly overshadowed all other world leaders at the
international talking shop on Manhattan's Turtle Bay. His invitation to
speak at Columbia University set off the sort of media frenzy usually
reserved for the hi-jinks of O.J. Simpson or Britney Spears.
Columbia students, alumni and anyone who's ever heard of the school
weighed on the propriety of the event. While panels attended by heads
of state at the university's school of international affairs do not
usually merit time even on C-Span, this one was broadcast live around
the world on CNN.
15 MINUTES OF FAME
Columbia's embattled President Lee Bollinger was subjected to
opprobrium before the event for the bad taste of inviting a
Holocaust-denier to the sacred precincts of the Morningside Heights
campus. But after using his literal as opposed to proverbial 15
minutes of fame to lambaste the somewhat befuddled Iranian, Bollinger
became an American idol and the subject of a laudatory editorial in The
New York Times that applauded the university's judgment.
At the Columbia forum, Ahmadinejad lost points even among the hard
left, which tends to like anybody who hates America, Israel or the
Jews, by denying not the Holocaust, but the existence of homosexuality
in his nation of approximately 70 million people.
Coming across as more of a fool than a demon or Hitler-wannabe,
Ahmadinejad may have garnered some applause from some in the audience
in the hall, it isn't likely he won too many new American friends.
On campus and some 70 blocks south outside the United Nations, a
largely Jewish crowd of protesters raged at the Iranian's impudence,
and a bipartisan parade of politicians lined up to denounce
Ahmadinejad's calls for Israel's destruction, his country's support of
terrorism and its oft-publicized nuclear ambitions.
As for the rights and wrongs of the Columbia event itself, suffice it
to say that anyone who thinks that free speech has anything to do with
whether an Ivy League university gives a platform to a man who leads a
murderous fundamentalist dictatorship isn't thinking clearly. As a
former Columbian myself, I bow to no one in my affection for the place,
but the scolding from Bollinger notwithstanding, the school dishonored
A university that won't let the armed forces of the United States
recruit or teach in an ROTC program on campus ostensibly because it
dislikes the army's position on gays (though the hard-core
anti-military feelings and contempt for patriotism of much of the
faculty has more to do with it than support for gay rights) was in no
position to play the free-speech card for Ahmadinejad.
If anything, it's easy to suspect that Bollinger seized the opportunity
to grandstand against the Iranian (albeit with a searing indictment
that deserved applause) more for his own public-relations profile than
While a great deal of time was wasted debating the invitation of a
world leader who has called for the genocidal extermination of a
member-state of the United Nations Israel and whether giving him a
platform is a defense of freedom of speech or a travesty of it, is
there any real will, as opposed to rhetorical lip service, among both
the chattering classes and our politicians to doing something about
Will the question of what measures the West is prepared to take to halt
the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, as well as its
subsidization of Islamist terror, fade back to a blur once the circus
Though no one wants to think about the alternative to sanctions, French
President Sarkozy himself stated at the United Nations that appeasement
of Iran will lead inevitably to "war."
The French, like the Americans and the Israelis, believe that diplomacy
can do the trick if it is accompanied by the sort of tough sanctions
against Iran that the U.S. House of Representatives voted for this
week. But for all of the fine talk about international cooperation,
there is little sign that the opposition of both Russia or China to a
genuine sanctions regime against the Islamic republic will be enacted
this year or at any time in the future.
Nor, one suspects, will that change, until those nations become
convinced that an already war-weary America means what it says about
squelching the mullahs mad plans to gain nuclear capability.
FORGET ABOUT HITLER
The problem here is that the Ahmadinejad show was just that: a farce
that did little to illustrate the fanatical nature of his regime's
religious extremism, its deep involvement in international terrorism or
its willingness to use any weapons it gets his hands on to wipe out the
State of Israel.
Historical analogies are, at best, inexact, and often misleading.
Contemporary Iran is not a clone of Nazi Germany. But given its size,
strength and the way it can use its support of Shi'ites throughout the
Middle East, as well as via alliance with Sunnis who share its
anti-Western and anti-Semitic beliefs, it doesn't have to be in order
to be an extraordinary threat to world peace, even without nukes.
If Ahmadinejad, or someone like him, gets their finger on a nuclear
button, it won't matter that he doesn't resemble Hitler and seems more
comical than threatening. If he ever gets the means and the opportunity
to match his motive to commit mass murder of the Jews of Israel (or
some other non-Islamist target), who cares if the differences between
Shi'ite Islamism and National Socialism are enormous.
As virtually all of the American presidential candidates have shown, it
takes no courage to huff and puff about Iran and back sanctions. But
does anyone really believe that the international community will unite
behind them? Despite the general revulsion felt for the Iranian, is
there any doubt that support for the use of force against Iran if it
proves necessary simply doesn't exist yet in this country?
The Ahmadinejad show was good theater, but anything that doesn't help
galvanize American public opinion into realizing that action on this
issue is a matter of life and death is nothing but a meaningless
sideshow. If, within the next few years, Iran's nuclear plans are
allowed to become a reality, it will be too late for debate about
Ahmadinejad, but more than enough time to ponder a new round of