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Sep 26, 2007

The Lee C. Bollinger Speech

This is a copy of the edited transcript of the speech this week by Columbia University president Lee Bollinger during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Columbia. It comes from

Photo, Lee C Bollinger

IN UNIVERSITIES we have a deep and almost single-minded commitment to pursue the truth. We do not have access to the levers of power, we cannot make war or peace, we can only make minds, and to do this, we must have the most fulsome freedom of inquiry.

Let me now turn to Mr Ahmadinejad. According to Amnesty International, 210 people have been executed in Iran so far this year, 21 of them on the morning of September 5 alone. This annual total includes at least two children, further proof, as Human Rights Watch puts it, that Iran leads the world in executing minors.

There is more. Iran hanged up 30 people this past July and August during a widely reported suppression of efforts to establish a more democratic society. Many of these executions were carried out in public view.

Let's then be clear at the beginning. Mr President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator. And so I ask you, why have women, members of the Baha'i faith, homosexuals and so many of our academic colleagues become targets of persecution in your country?

Why, in a letter last week to the Secretary-General of the UN, did Akbar Ganji, Iran's leading political dissident, and over 300 public intellectuals, writers and Nobel Laureates express such grave concern that your inflamed dispute with the West is distracting the world's attention from the intolerable conditions in your regime within Iran, in particular the use of the press law to ban writers for criticising the ruling system? Why are you so afraid of Iranian citizens expressing their opinions for change?

In a December 2005 state television broadcast, you described the Holocaust as "a fabricated legend".

One year later you held a two-day conference of Holocaust deniers. For the illiterate and ignorant, this is dangerous propaganda.

This makes you, quite simply, ridiculous. You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated.

The truth is the Holocaust is the most documented event in human history. Because of this, and for many other reasons, your absurd comments about the debate over the Holocaust both defy historical truth and make all of us who continue to fear humanity's capacity for evil shudder at this closure of memory.

Will you cease this outrage?

Twelve days ago you said that the state of Israel cannot continue its life.

This echoed a number of inflammatory statements you have delivered in the past two years, including in October 2005, when you said that Israel "should be wiped off the map".

Columbia has over 800 alumni currently living in Israel. My question then is, do you plan on wiping us off the map too?

Funding terrorism: According to reports of the Council on Foreign Relations, it's well-documented that Iran is a state sponsor of terror that funds such violent groups as Lebanese Hezbollah, which Iran helped organise in the 1980s, Palestinian Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

While your predecessor government was instrumental in providing the US with intelligence and base support in the 2001 campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan, your Government is now undermining American troops in Iraq by funding, arming and providing safe transit to insurgent leaders like Muqtada al-Sadr and his forces.

My question is this: Why do you support well-documented terrorist

organisations that continue to strike at peace and democracy in the Middle East, destroying lives and the civil society of the region?

A number of Columbia graduates and current students are among the brave members of our military who are serving or have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. They, like other Americans with sons, daughters, fathers, husbands and wives serving in combat, rightly see your Government as the enemy.

Can you tell them and us why Iran is fighting a proxy war in Iraq by arming Shi'a militia targeting and killing US troops?

Why does your country continue to refuse to adhere to international standards for nuclear weapons verification, in defiance of agreements that you have made with the UN nuclear agency? And why have you chosen to make the people of your country vulnerable to the effects of international economic sanctions, and threaten to engulf the world in

nuclear annihilation?

Mr President I doubt that you will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions. But your avoiding them will in itself be meaningful to us.

I do expect you to exhibit the fanatical mindset that characterises so much of what you say and do.

Fortunately I am told by experts on your country that this only further undermines your position in Iran, with all the many good-hearted, intelligent citizens there.

A year ago, I am reliably told, your preposterous and belligerent statements in this country, at one of the meetings at the Council on Foreign Relations, so embarrassed sensible Iranian citizens that this led to your party's defeat in the December mayoral elections.

May this do that and more.

I am only a professor, who is also a university president. And today I feel all the weight of the modern civilised world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for.

I only wish I could do better.


  1. There could be some possible reasons as to why the Iranian leader is used as a punching bag by some to release their pent up feelings :

    Aggravating the nuisance value of what he has to say, undermines his views and discreds his position.

    The more an image of the "lurking enemy" is reinforced, the more you can promote your role as the "saviour". The imminent danger scenario helps bring supporter around a cause to align and identify with.

  2. anonymous; I totally disagree, these slippery little nasties should be told how it is a bit more often.