Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad comes to town and we lose our national etiquette.
The past several days have not been particularly good ones for the country. Far from taking advice from Emily Post, we were in the words of Columbia President, Lee Bollinger, petty and cruel, I would also add arrogant and schizophrenic.
Petty, because our narrow-mindedness overruled our need to show respect, cruel, because of the way we treated an invited guest, arrogant because our self-importance caused us the lose sight of our own values, and schizophrenic because we couldn't decide if we were a world leader or local bully. Thus, we may have given Ahmadinejad more credibility than he deserves.
These past six years, whenever we have had an opportunity to put on display the nobility of our beliefs, invariably we become drawn to the hypnotic light of hubris, rendering us unable to distinguish between the ideals of Thomas Jefferson and George Jefferson.
First, we denied Ahmadinejad, his request to lay a wreath at Ground Zero. I have no doubt that Ahmadinejad would have used the opportunity to grandstand, but somehow our denial makes us look small-minded.
The fact that leading presidential candidates, from both parties, displayed rare unanimity by opposing Ahmadinejad's visit to Ground Zero only suggests they possessed similar focus-group questions prior to making their positions public. Can it be that American elected officials reserves the World Trade Center site exclusively for their exploitation?
One New York newspaper noted Ahmadinejad's arrival to New York with a headline that read: "The Evil has Landed!" There was also that sophomoric performance by Bollinger, who looked more the part of neocon shill than president of one our most distinguished universities.
It was as if Bollinger was on the grassy knoll waiting for Ahmadinejad to pass by. "We at this university have not been shy to protest and challenge the failures of our own government to live by these values; and we won't be shy in criticizing yours," Bollinger declared. "Let's, then, be clear at the beginning, Mr. President you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator," he said.
The AM talk show format, notwithstanding, I could perhaps better understand Bollinger's words if they were in the context of an exchange, but this was allegedly the introduction. The image was that of Ahmadinejad sitting in silence, calmly waiting for his opportunity to speak, while Bollinger peppered him with insults.
So much for looking like a country that values free speech. We behaved as if Ahmadinejad does not have influence in the Middle East region, let alone Iran.
The less-than-hospitable environs that Ahmadinejad found himself this week placed allegations of his being a Holocaust-denier, authoritarian leader, sponsor of terrorism, and leader of a country on the brink of nuclear capability on the back burner.
Without Bollinger's soliloquy/introduction, Ahmadinejad would have still been vague about the Holocaust, his country's nuclear intentions, and forthrightly that gays do not exist in Iran as they do in America.
Bollinger unwittingly or arrogantly allowed Ahmadinejad to cloak his elusive responses and his vainglory behind intellectual curiosity--something he has not afforded the academics and students of Iran who have been arrested because their curiosities are not congruent with the dominant culture.
Columbia University had three choices: Deny Ahmadinejad the opportunity to speak, allow him to speak, or allow him speak with the additive of American arrogance and propaganda. Sadly, they chose the third option; and Ahmadinejad got what he wanted--to portray America as the unreasonable one in this dangerous game that belies his propensity to smile as he offers his bona fides to the world.
There is something about our national psyche that will not allow us to ignore a fight no matter how petty it may be. It appears that Ahmadinejad understands this far better than we do.
Down through the ages it has been proven repeatedly the futility of engaging in a urinating contest with a skunk; there is simply no way to win. Moreover, when institutions of higher learning participate in such nonsense, it becomes cause for real concern. Are they not the bastion that houses our best and brightest?
Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message at 510-208-6417. You can also visit his MySpace page--Byronspeaks