Iranian Universities in a huff

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For those who were wondering how Iranians felt about the whole PrezBo introduction…

“Fars News Agency      September 25, 2007

Iranian University Chancellors Ask Bollinger 10 Questions

TEHRAN – Seven chancellors and presidents of Iranian universities and research centers, in a letter addressed to their counterpart in the US Colombia University, denounced Lee Bollinger’s insulting words against the Iranian nation and president and invited him to provide responses for 10 questions of the Iranian academicians and intellectuals.

The following is the full text of the letter.

Mr. Lee Bollinger

Columbia University President

We, the professors and heads of universities and research institutions in

Tehran , hereby announce our displeasure and protest at your impolite

remarks prior to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent speech at

Columbia University.

We would like to inform you that President Ahmadinejad was elected directly

by the Iranian people through an enthusiastic two-round poll in which almost

all of the country’s political parties and groups participated. To assess

the quality and nature of these elections you may refer to US news reports

on the poll dated June 2005.

Your insult, in a scholarly atmosphere, to the president of a country with a

population of 72 million and a recorded history of 7,000 years of

civilization and culture is deeply shameful.

Your comments, filled with hate and disgust, may well have been influenced

by extreme pressure from the media, but it is regrettable that media

policy-makers can determine the stance a university president adopts in his


Your remarks about our country included unsubstantiated accusations that

were the product of guesswork as well as media propaganda. Some of your

claims result from misunderstandings that can be clarified through dialogue

and further research.

During his speech, Mr. Ahmadinejad answered a number of your questions and

those of students. We are prepared to answer any remaining questions in a

scientific, open and direct debate.

You asked the president approximately ten questions. Allow us to ask you ten

of our own questions in the hope that your response will help clear the

atmosphere of misunderstanding and distrust between our two countries and

reveal the truth.

1- Why did the US media put you under so much pressure to prevent Mr.

Ahmadinejad from delivering his speech at Columbia University? And why have

American TV networks been broadcasting hours of news reports insulting our

president while refusing to allow him the opportunity to respond? Is this

not against the principle of freedom of speech?

2- Why, in 1953, did the US administration overthrow the Iran’s national

government under Dr Mohammad Mosaddegh and go on to support the Shah’s


3- Why did the US support the blood-thirsty dictator Saddam Hussein during

the 1980-88 Iraqi-imposed war on Iran, considering his reckless use of

chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers defending their land and even

against his own people?

4- Why is the US putting pressure on the government elected by the majority

of Palestinians in Gaza instead of officially recognizing it? And why does

it oppose Iran ‘s proposal to resolve the 60-year-old Palestinian issue

through a general referendum?

5- Why has the US military failed to find Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden

even with all its advanced equipment? How do you justify the old friendship

between the Bush and Bin Laden families and their cooperation on oil deals?

How can you justify the Bush administration’s efforts to disrupt

investigations concerning the September 11 attacks?

6- Why does the US administration support the Mujahedin Khalq Organization

(MKO) despite the fact that the group has officially and openly accepted the

responsibility for numerous deadly bombings and massacres in Iran and Iraq?

Why does the US refuse to allow Iran ‘s current government to act against

the MKO’s main base in Iraq?

7- Was the US invasion of Iraq based on international consensus and did

international institutions support it? What was the real purpose behind the

invasion which has claimed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives? Where are

the weapons of mass destruction that the US claimed were being stockpiled in


8- Why do America’s closest allies in the Middle East come from extremely

undemocratic governments with absolutist monarchical regimes?

9- Why did the US oppose the plan for a Middle East free of unconventional

weapons in the recent session of the International Atomic Energy Agency

Board of Governors despite the fact the move won the support of all members

other than Israel?

10- Why is the US displeased with Iran’s agreement with the IAEA and why

does it openly oppose any progress in talks between Iran and the agency to

resolve the nuclear issue under international law?

Finally, we would like to express our readiness to invite you and other

scientific delegations to our country. A trip to Iran would allow you and

your colleagues to speak directly with Iranians from all walks of life

including intellectuals and university scholars. You could then assess the

realities of Iranian society without media censorship before making

judgments about the Iranian nation and government.

You can be assured that Iranians are very polite and hospitable toward their




  1. yeah  

    "Your insult, in a scholarly atmosphere, to the president of a country with a population of 72 million and a recorded history of 7,000 years of civilization and culture is deeply shameful. the Iranian government. Glad they admit it.

  2. what?

    bollinger is supposed to answer for what the US government has been up to since 1953?

  3. why yes  

    don't you know that Bollinger has been a shill for the Zionist puppet regime of the United States for the past 54 years?

  4. just a note  

    My post, #3, was meant to be sarcastic.

  5. oish  

    Bollinger is the president of Columbia University, not all of 20th century America. There really is no point in asking Bollinger those, as he has absolutely nothing to do with them, except maybe the first one. And of course, if Bollinger won't answer these, which he probably won't, the Iranians will see this as an act of cowardice, or Bollinger being unable to answer, not the fact that 9/10 of these questions are misdirected.

    • yup  

      I see this as the Iranian government feeling shamed. If Ahmadinejad looked good yesterday this wouldn't have been necessary. They're just doing damage control, even though it's totally useless. Ahmadinejad is less popular in Iran than Bush is popular here.

    • woo

      go peace and understanding. but my question is this: who is columbia going to send to iran to take up ahmadinejad's offer? since he seems to like science (one could say he's blinded by it), I propose david helfand.

      • seriously  

        I have dual citizenship. I'd go, except I'd never be able to come home. Do you guys think that Bollinger is seriously considering going? After all, in his introduction he PROPOSED it. Ahmadinejad accepted it at the end of the whole shabang. Thoughts?

  6. lkjljlk  

    Ahmadinejad WAS directly elected, with a voter turnout rate much higher than in any recent american election. why does bollinger label him a dictator?

  7. gaggagghhh  

    "During his speech, Mr. Ahmadinejad answered a number of your questions and those of students."

    He answered ONE. And answered it with "gays don't exist."

    I guess the Iranians have learned what "spin" is all about.

  8. Source?  

    Which presidents & chancellors co-signed this letter? Their names aren't written anywhere.

  9. ohhhh

    "Tehran's Campus Crackdown"

    " Ahmadinejad launched his second "Islamic Cultural Revolution" last year by appointing a semiliterate mullah as chancellor of Tehran University - the first time that a cleric took charge of the nation's oldest and largest center of higher education."

    So now University chancellors are one and the same with the Iranian government.

  10. i dunno  

    Take it for what it is, a biting reaction to Bollinger embarrasing their president on national telivision and questioning his academic qualifications. Ahmadinejad said he was a professor, hence expand this to the highest academic in Iran, and some might frame it that Bollinger was hating on Iranian academia.

    Obviously Bollinger is not responsible for any historical animosity towards Iran, and yeah there is a shit load of spin on this, but what we can take out of it is that the U.S has fucked up foreign policy for years and we can't ignore that. I think it was actually a pretty productive response because it shows that the Iranian population saw Bollinger's speech and also serves as an indirect challenge to the Bush administration to step up to the plate.

  11. argh  

    "Was the US invasion of Iraq based on international consensus and did international institutions support it? What was the real purpose behind the
    invasion which has claimed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives? Where are the weapons of mass destruction that the US claimed were being stockpiled in Iraq?"

    I know this is kind of a non-sequitur, but the fact that there is no good answer to this question is pretty depressing. If asked it now, Bush would fumble and dodge around in probably the same way that Ahmadinejad did.

    • the

      really troublesome one is #6. The US lashes out against Iran's support for Hezbollah and Hamas, but currently harbors a designated terrorist under the guide of the geneva convention.

      Iran even offered a swap- force MEK to disband, and they'd rescind support for Hezb/hamas.

      Oh yeah, Iran also brokered the deal to install a new government with Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan following the US-led invasion. Bush shortly thereafter called Iran a member of the Axis-of-Evil.

      Lots of gratitude.

  12. CRINGE  

    Colombia? I hope that's a typo...otherwise, I'm rejoining the facebook group "I'm going to Columbia University, not the country Colombia."

  13. rjt  

    "You asked the president approximately ten questions. Allow us to ask you ten
    of our own questions..."

    This is pretty much the hip, top new debate strategy sweeping Iran right now. I would love to see these Iranians debate against Ahmadinejad. It would be like that improv game where you're only allowed to speak in questions.

  14. jesus  

    Bollinger was very disrespectful in his introduction. Recall that this is the _president of a sovereign nation_ we are talking about. As a major figure in international affairs, Ahmadinejad did Columbia an honor by accepting our invitation. The least Bollinger could have done was to give him a basic level of respect in his introduction. The laws of respecting one's guests carry past national boundaries and university gates.

    I believe that Bollinger said what he did to silence domestic criticism about himself, not out of some lofty ideal of free speech. If he wanted to further dialog and actually engage in debate, he could have stayed around and actually gone back and forth with Ahmadinejad, rather than slam him in the introduction and then leave.

    I don't agree with any of Ahmadinejad's policies or views. I find most of them disgusting. I especially didn't appreciate the way he dodged questions and I didn't like any of his answers, when he bothered to give them (such as about gays). However, after Bollinger's disgraceful behavior yesterday, I would have preferred if Ahmadinejad hadn't been invited in the first place. It reflects badly on Bollinger, and our university.

    I wish I could apologize on behalf of Columbia, but I'm just a lowly undergraduate.

    • wow  

      how many times will we hear that reason? anyone who read bollinger's statement when he announced the invitation could tell that he'd been planning that speech all along. and since columbians who disagree with ahmadinejad have free speech too, the only chance to express it to him was through that intro.

      also, am i the only one who finds #5 to be the silliest/most disturbing?

      • invisible_hand

        provost brinkley confirms that prez pahmadinejad agreed to come here with the explicit understanding that he would be subject to a Q&A from the audience and preliminary, CRITICAL remarks from prezbo.
        making a scandal out of this is nuts. who here would not like to do a similar thing with our own president?
        i know i would. and he would fare much more poorly than ahmadinejad.

    • thank you!  

      I completely agree with you.

  15. question 11  

    was about why columbia univ stood silent when they shut down nacho mama and the $3 margarita happy hour, bringing in a bourgeois wannabe west coast juice bar instead. to which prezbo answered, there was no mexican food in there.

  16. Chris

    Regardless of what you think of this letter, I think it's pretty clear that a) Most Iranians (and from my discussions, most Columbia students thought Bollinger's remarks were way out of line and b) actually help Ahmadinejad at home

    From the AP:

    Ahmadinejad's popularity at home has been suffering, with many Iranians blaming him for failing to fix the faltering economy and for heightening the confrontation with the West with his inflammatory rhetoric.But in the eyes of many Iranian critics and supporters alike, Ahmadinejad looked like the victim.

    "Our president appeared as a gentleman. He remained polite against those who could not remain polite," said Ahmad Masoudi, a customer at a grocery store who had watched state TV's recorded version of the event, including Bollinger's remarks. Iranian Farsi channels did not air the event live.

    Another customer in the store, Rasoul Qaresi, said Bollinger showed that even Americans "in a cultural position act like cowboys and nothing more."

    Others thought Bollinger's words were unseemly for an academic setting. Tehran nurse Mahmoud Rouhi said the president was treated "like a suspect."

    • hmmm

      i wonder what would've happened to them if they'd said prezbo was right and ahmedinejad couldn't stand to answer? besides the fact that it wasn't presented to them all that accurately.

    • gross  

      Quiet, apologist. Most Iranians did NOT think that Bollinger's comments were way out of line, and it DOESN'T help out Ahmadinejad at home. Any interviews of Iranians in Iran who sound like they support Ahmadinejad cannot be trusted--all media is state-run. How can you be so sure these people even A) exist or B) didn't say that under duress? This is the Iranian Media for god's sake.

      The fact that this letter was written tells me that the Ahmadinejad felt shamed. There would be no need for defensive letters like this if that were not the case.

    • ???

      What is with this trend lately of people asserting "most Columbia students support X" without any evidence? I can certainly tell you that Bollinger's comments got a standing ovation from three-quarters of the South Lawn crowd, because I watched that happen. What do you have backing up your claim, exactly? The reactions of Iranians watching a state TV station? Note that several commenters on this blog with relatives in Iran have noted that edited versions of the speech were shown on TV there, and that links have been posted to Iranian gov't websites spouting BS.

  17. Chris  

    The New York Tines is not Iranian media either. There are any number of quotes I could pick out from this article:

    But I thought that the quote from director of the ADL might make the biggest impression on you:

    "Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said Mr. Bollinger’s speech was counterproductive.

    “If you invite someone, you have to be polite,” he said. “Ahmadinejad scored points, especially in their culture. If you permit an enemy to come into your home, you still treat him with dignity and respect. Therefore, we lost. The points that President Bollinger made were fine. But to close with insulting words almost undid everything he said before. It was not a good teaching experience.”

    • wrong  

      He's actually just as stupid as you. Bollinger excercised his free speech by saying all those things about Ahmadinejad (which were COMPLETELY accurate), and then Ahmadinejad exercised his free speech. That's how free speech WORKS.

      My only regret is that Bollinger said that stuff at the beginning, which gave Ahmadinejad an opportunity to "defend" himself, if you will, even though there was nothing he could defend. I wish that BOLLINGER had gotten the last word.

  18. Bravo for Bollinger

    Bollinger's introduction may have violated Iranian cultural norms, but it was perfectly appropriate. That Iranian leader doesn't deserve any respect. Everything he stands for is shameful, and it would have been shameful for Bollinger not to frame the encounter in a proper light. A University cannot stand for freedom and liberty while celebrating the oppressors of the world.

  19. ...

    The problem with Bollinger’s remarks is that they defeated his own argument as to why he invited Ahmadinejad. I was there, and at the time I clapped loudly and internally said “You go PrezBo!”…but then he, as far as I remember without even LOOKING at Ahmadinejad, turned and walked off stage after saying ‘today I feel all the weight of the modern civilized world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for. I only wish I could do better’. Now that’s all well and good, and maybe true, but hardly in the spirit of academic debate. To repeatedly insult someone, and then walk off stage without giving them a chance to answer back to you and defend themselves seems contrary to the principles which Bollinger replied upon to justify the invitation in the first place. I understand why Bollinger said what he did, I understand there was immense pressure to do so, and I’m not even saying that I don’t agree with the vast majority of what he said, but at the end of the day, I don’t think it was in the spirit of the world leader’s forum and it was a political diatribe at a point where it was not appropriate…the forum was supposed to be a learning and academic experience, and what Bollinger said was not consistent with that. As I said, I get why he did it, I just wish he’d had the courage of his convictions that this was valuable as an academic exercise, and treated it as such.

  20. I.M.O.  

    Regardless of whether Bollinger's comments exercised free speech or not, the question is, is anything he said really going to change things for the better? Probably not. Instead, he offended the Iranian president, who took to the need to defend himself. Now, I myself am Iranian-American and still think Ahmadinejad is a loony, but you don't invite your enemy over for a supposedly professional univesity event to call him "evil" and a "pettiless cruel dictator" in his face. There could have been better ways to get that point across.

    As for the letter from the Iranian chancellors: also a smart move on their behalf. To a degree they're right -- we asked them some difficult questions that they dodged around, and in return they are addressing us (particularly Bollinger, albeit it's sort of unfair on his behalf) some pretty damn hard ones as well. I don't think we'd fare too well in giving them a happy answer either, to be honest.

    Don't forget that Iran is a country that the US and pals have screwed over in several different ways since way before their revolution. I'm not trying to justify everything its government has done or what Ahmadinejad has stated in the past, but there's no doubt that they have good reasons to question/distrust us.

    • oh please  

      This is exactly the kind of apologism I find absolutely repugnant. Bollinger announced on WEDNESDAY that he would be making a hostile speech to Ahmadinejad in the very beginning. Ahmadinejad agreed to it anyway. What was Bollinger supposed to do? Be KIND to him? Kiss his cheek? Shake his hand? Bollinger was already incredibly kind by allowing a man who does not allow free speech to speak freely. You cannot deny this. Please post an alternative speech so that I can make fun of you.

      You are absolutely a fool if you think that anyone other than the government of Iran wrote this letter. Did you miss my link to the NYPost above?

      Another Iranian

  21. Alum

    Dear President Bollinger:

    You challenged our president on ten of his own repugnant practices. We can't find any practices of yours to challenge, so we demand instead that you defend the practices of the American media and the U.S. government going back to 1953 -- when you were about 6 years old.

    We think asking these questions is equivalent to your grilling of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

    Oh, and No. 11- Why do our best students all want to be educated at Columbia instead of here in Iran?

  22. Anonymous  

    meanwhile, back in iran... the debrief as presented by the state run media:

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