Iran’s controversial president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in New York next week to address the United Nations, will not be allowed to visit Ground Zero — the site of the World Trade Center, leveled by Middle Eastern terrorists — but he will give a speech at another location in Manhattan that has been on the front lines of the debate over conflict in the Middle East: Columbia University.
Columbia’s president, Lee C. Bollinger, announced last night that President Ahmadinejad would speak and answer audience questions on Monday afternoon as part of the university’s World Leaders Forum. Mr. Bollinger said he would introduce the president by issuing “sharp challenges” to his denial of the Holocaust, stated goal of wiping Israel off the map, support for terrorism, defiance of sanctions stemming from Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and suppression of human rights and civil liberties.
The invitation to speak, postponed from a year ago, is part of Columbia’s mission to understand the world “as it is and as it might be,” Mr. Bollinger said, even if that means having to listen courteously to ideas that are “offensive and even odious.” He called for Mr. Ahmadinejad to be received with “the powers of dialogue and reason.”
That seems unlikely at Columbia, which has been a battleground over the conflicts in the Middle East, featuring a continuing tenure fight, attacks on books, outside pressure to fire scholars, fights over Middle East studies, and allegations of classroom bias, among others. As the protesters gear up for Monday’s fireworks, stay tuned. —Andrew Mytelka