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The Ugly American

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about Columbia University President Lee Bollinger’s statements while introducing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I was surprised by some of the remarks. Not that I necessarily disagree with them, but they were said while Mr. Bollinger was introducing Mr. Ahmadinejad. His comments were more suited to a debate than an introduction. I think maybe that’s the issue here. Maybe it struck me the wrong way because I’m Southern. It was where and when Mr. Bollinger made his remarks that struck me as bad form (not the remarks themselves, which I largely agreed with).
The quote that is getting thrown around the most is; “Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator.” The one that struck me the most was “You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated.”
This is from the president of a university which had invited Mr. Ahmadinejad to speak. That struck me as an aggressive ambush.
Like I said, “bad form”. You don’t invite someone into your home and then attack them. Whatever you think of that person, that’s the very definition of incivility and inhospitality. I knew the minute I heard Mr. Bollinger’s remarks that there would be a lot of people in the Middle East who would think the same thing.
The chancellors of seven Iranian universities issued a letter to Bollinger saying his “insult, in a scholarly atmosphere, to the president of a country with … a recorded history of 7,000 years of civilization and culture is deeply shameful.”
The chancellors invited Bollinger to Iran, adding, “You can be assured that Iranians are very polite and hospitable toward their guests.”
According to Ahmad Masoudi, a customer at a grocery store in Iran, who had watched state TV’s recorded version of the event, including Bollinger’s remarks, “Our president appeared as a gentleman. He remained polite against those who could not remain polite.”
Another customer in the store, Rasoul Qaresi, said Bollinger showed that even Americans “in a cultural position act like cowboys and nothing more.”
I hate to admit it, but they’re right. While I whole-heartedly agree with what Mr. Bollinger said about the Iranian president, I do take issue with where and when he said it. Bollinger came across as the ugly American who had no sense of honor and propriety. I would have expected better from the president of an American university.
Excerpts of Lee Bollinger’s comments

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