Sorry about the bad taste in the title. I realize it’s a bit like chuckling over the irony of Eichmann being considered a “Jewish expert,” but the whole sordid Ahmadinejad affair has caused such a cognitive disconnect that it reminds me of a debate between advocates of gay marriage and advocates of sodomy laws.
What shocks me the most is the way so many people leaped to the defense of a man who not only denies the Holocaust while advocating another one, but who has the blood of Jews, American soldiers, gays, women stoned to death, and more on his hands.
A morally indefensible man was given a propaganda opportunity, and as the LA Times makes quite clear, he has walked away the winner:

Bollinger clearly had an American audience in mind when he denounced the Iranian leader to his face as a “cruel” and “petty dictator” and described his Holocaust denial as designed to “fool the illiterate and the ignorant.” Bollinger’s remarks may have taken him off the hook with his domestic critics, but when it came to the international media audience that really counted, Ahmadinejad already had carried the day. The invitation to speak at Columbia already had given him something totalitarian demagogues — who are as image-conscious as Hollywood stars — always crave: legitimacy. Bollinger’s denunciation was icing on the cake, because the constituency the Iranian leader cares about is scattered across an Islamic world that values hospitality and its courtesies as core social virtues. To that audience, Bollinger looked stunningly ill-mannered; Ahmadinejad dignified and restrained.
Back in Tehran, Mohsen Mirdamadi, a leading Iranian reformer and Ahmadinejad opponent, said Bollinger’s blistering remarks “only strengthened” the president back home and “made his radical supporters more determined,” According to an Associated Press report, “Many Iranians found the comments insulting, particularly because in Iranian traditions of hospitality, a host should be polite to a guest, no matter what he thinks of him. To many, Ahmadinejad looked like the victim, and hard-liners praised the president’s calm demeanor during the event, saying Bollinger was spouting a ‘Zionist’ line.”
All of this was bad enough, but the almost willful refusal of commentators in the American media to provide their audiences with insight into just how sinister Ahmadinejad really is compounded the problem. There are a couple of reasons for the media’s general refusal to engage with radical Islamic revivalists, like Ahmadinejad. He belongs to a particularly aggressive school of radical Shiite Islam, the Haghani, which lives in expectation of the imminent coming of the Madhi, a kind of Islamic messiah, who will bring peace and justice — along with universal Islamic rule — to the entire world. Serious members of this school — and Ahmadinejad, who was a brilliant university student, is a very serious member — believe they must act to speed the Mahdi’s coming. “The wave of the Islamic revolution” would soon “reach the entire world,” he has promised.
As a fundamentally secular institution, the American press always has had a hard time coming to grips with the fact that Islamists like the Iranian president mean what they say and that they really do believe what they say they believe.

Via Glenn Reynolds.
It bothers me to see the debate framed as being about free speech. Or politeness. Here’s Mark Bowden:

….I am no fan of Ahmadinejad. I have written about him in this column and in my book Guests of the Ayatollah, where I noted his central involvement in the criminal seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979. Ahmadinejad is a dangerous zealot and the public face of a ruthless and oppressive regime that has enforced its own narrow and reactionary religious rule in Iran for more than a quarter of a century. He is given to buffoonish displays of ignorant hostility toward Israel and even modern history. He is by any measure an enemy of the United States and of the most basic values of Western society.
But he was a guest. I have no problem whatsoever with the roasting Ahmadinejad took in the New York press, or the laughter that greeted his more inane remarks – welcome to a free society, Mahmoud. But there is no excuse for Bollinger’s rudeness. I suspect it was intended to emphasize that an invitation to speak is not an endorsement of the speaker, but there was a bigger principle at stake. Columbia University’s decision to bring Ahmadinejad to campus needed no defense. Indeed, it was a demonstration of the openness of American society, something we ought to take pride in. Bollinger’s remarks turned that expression of freedom into something that looked more like an ugly stunt, and succeeded in actually making fair-minded people feel sorry for Ahmadinejad. The moment was saved from becoming a complete Ahmadinejad triumph only by his own daffy comments.

Yes, it was rude, and it probably did play into the hands of Ahmadinejad’s propaganda machine. (Something which could easily have been avoided by not inviting the SOB in the first place.)
But again, focusing on manners strikes me as a little creepy, and a bit misplaced if we take into account the overall circumstances of Ahmadinejad.
ahmadinejad22.jpg Similarly, the debate over whether the man raised valid questions about the definition and nature of homosexuality struck me as unseemly last week. Which was why I was delighted by Andrew Sullivan’s remark:

“Ahmadinejad was right, you see? There are no gays in Iran. Just ask the Queer Studies Department.”

I don’t doubt that Ahmadinejad is delighted to have generated a serious academic debate over homosexuality, and it is still raging.
Glenn Reynolds links this post by David Bernstein discussing the views of a Columbia professor who argues that:

…. there are no homosexuals in the entire Arab world, except for a few who have been brainwashed into believing they have a homosexual identity by an aggressive Western homosexual missionizing movement he calls “Gay International.” The article is called, “Re-Orienting Desire: The Gay International and the Arab World,” and it appears in Volume 14, issue 2 of the journal Public Culture, and was elaborated upon in a book, Desiring Arabs, published by University of Chicago Press (UPDATE: BTW, I read the article, which is accessible through my GMU library account, but not the book). According to the author, “It is the very discourse of the Gay International which produces homosexuals, as well as gays and lesbians, where they do not exist” (emphasis added).
The author doesn’t deny that same-sex sexual contact exists in Arab countries, but claims that the category of “homosexual” is purely a Western one exported to the Arab world by Western cultural imperialists. He suggests that by encouraging Arabs to adopt a Western homosexual identity, westernized Arab homosexuals have naturally provoked a counter-reaction against the importation of decadent Western culture into their societies. The article, to say, the least, is not at all sympathetic with the Western gay rights movements, and the author could easily write, replacing “Iran” with “the Arab world,” “in the Arab world we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.” (See here for a good critique of the author’s thesis.)

I’m sure that a good defense of the author’s thesis could be made too. In theory, I might be willing to venture such a defense, but I’m not about to take my cue from a murdering tyrant who believes in executing homosexuals — whether “homosexuals like in your country” or homosexuals like in his country.
Much time is devoted in the comments to arguing over what is and what is not homosexuality. While this is a topic to which I have devoted a good deal of time since the beginning of this blog (yes, I do care about it), I think it’s pretty sickening that the debate has been occasioned by a man who believes in executing people for participating in homosexual acts. I mean, we can argue till we’re blue in the face about whether a guy who has sex with a guy is gay, or bi, or just doing his thing for reasons known only to him. But if he’s blue in the face from dangling at the end of an Iranian rope, isn’t that the larger issue here?
Isn’t the point that there’s no sexual freedom in Iran?
David Bernstein thinks so:

The issue of homosexual identity is surely a fascinating one, but I would emphasize (1) it’s possible to claim Western origins for modern homosexual identity without one’s writing dripping with disdain for the gay rights groups that work to advance sexual freedom in Arab countries, where severe punishment for homosexual activity is common; (2) either one finds both Ahmadinejad and Massad to be engaged in respectable commentary on the differences between the Arab/Muslim world and the West re sexual orientation, or neither; and (3) the critique I linked to strikes me as quite sound, and written by an expert on the subject.

I agree. Anyway, I don’t think Ahmadinejad raise any new or important points when he said there were no homosexuals in Iran. And even if I thought he had, it wouldn’t mean that anyone — least of all myself — was under any duty to address them. (Again, I say this as someone with a longstanding interest in the matter.)
It’s a legitimate topic, but I think it’s rather unsettling to have to parse a murderer’s words and judge their theoretical meaning according to the trends of the latest Post Modernist jargon.
Yeah, I’ll probably be called an angry right wing nut (or maybe a “Cheeto-stained piece of chickenshit“) for it, but this picture makes me feel inclined to do to Ahmadinejad what his regime did to these two men.
The reaction of the Queer Studies Departments seems to be intellectual handwringing.
(Like asking “Why do they hang us?”)
MORE: This video explores the possibility that there may be personal issues involved.
Via Glenn Reynolds, who expresses his hope “that the image of Ahmadinejad in a slinky red dress atop the piano gets plenty of circulation with the folks back home.”
I’m all too happy to oblige with the imagery.
Every little bit helps.
And once he admits his denial, he’s got the problem half licked!
UPDATE: My thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link, and welcome all!
Glenn also links this post from Jeff Goldstein about Burma, and the trivialization of evil, assisted by the stultifying moral flattening which accompanies pacifism. (And hey, if Ahmadinejad and his propaganda victory is a joke, why take the savage repression in Burma seriously? I’m sure that many Columbia students see no difference between Bush, Ahmadinejad, and the brutal regime currently ruling Burma. Jeff links his earlier post about the Ahmadinejad, with a link to video showing students applauding. They’d probably applaud a Burmese government spokesman too.
Glenn also links Ron Rosenbaum, who notes the failure of so many to express outrage (and who links this chilling discussion of Ahmadinejad’s holy nuclear agenda).
Instead of expressing outrage, they’re congratulating each other for being tolerant of free speech. And as Rosenbaum notes, for being brave:

And what’s equally laughable is their belief that their arguments, their rhetoric their desire above all for dialogue will make a differnce in a kumbaya way, to the victims of a theocratic Stasi-like state.
Are they aware of how student dissidents are beaten and tortured in Terhan? Only in the abstract, I imagine. I suggest they read this harrowing account of an Iranian student hunted down, beaten and tortured, that was just published in London’s Observer.
Read it? Now tell me the best response: protest or “dialogue”? I wonder if that Iranian student was grateful for the super, super brave bloggers who boasted of their courageous lack of “fear” of dialogue with the representative of a theocratic fascist regime.

I suppose that some of them think it’s brave to applaud. Here’s Jonathan Last in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer:

When Ahmadinejad began his remarks by swinging back at Bollinger, several in the audience actually applauded him. More applause occurred when he called for Palestinian self-determination (which is, in itself, curious, since Palestinians have recently self-determined that they want to be led by the Iran-backed terrorist group Hamas). When Ahmadinejad claimed that Iran was the victim of U.S.-sponsored terrorism and was “the first nation that objected to terrorism,” there was even more applause. When he defended Iranian executions by asking, “Don’t you have capital punishment in the United States?”, more applause. When he said that nuclear weapons go against “the whole grain of humanity,” more applause. When he suggested that George W. Bush was “retarded,” more applause. And when he finished his performance, there was another spate of applause, just for good measure. How hospitable of them.
Oh, but how the audience guffawed when Ahmadinejad said Iran doesn’t have “the phenomenon” of homosexuality.
They really showed him.

While I don’t mind ridiculing him (and “showing” him), I suspect it will take more than that to deter his goal of religious-based nuclear annihilation.
UPDATE: Sean Kinsell links this post (thanks Sean!) with an interesting discussion. Be sure to read it.