Sam Schulman, writing at The American, has a thoughtful piece on the Columbia University controversy titled Lee Bollingerâ€™s Illusory Idealism. Schulman makes a point we haven’t seen before: Bollinger’s “verbal slap” of Ahmadinejad was only made possible because Bollinger had the US military standing behind him. Read on.
Many critics have (correctly) pointed to Bollingerâ€™s hypocrisy on the free exchange of ideas, since he does not permit the U.S. armed forces to recruit on Columbiaâ€™s campus and does not allow a Columbia ROTC unit. During his tenure, Columbia students have physically disrupted a speech by â€œMinutemenâ€ founder Jim Gilchrist. Bollinger has also winked at the suppression of open dialogue in many Middle East Studies courses.
But this is different. Bollingerâ€”to the applause of many and the reluctant admiration of a fewâ€”has taken advantage of the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform to verbally slap around Ahmadinejad. He forgets that the only thing holding Ahmadinejad in check is American military power (which, in turn, is deployed only by our civil authorities).
Bollingerâ€™s performance, however skillful, was illusory and narcissistic, precisely because he and his admirers forget that human ideals require the force of political and military institutions to guarantee their relevance. He prefers to think, no doubt, that it is his own idealismâ€”and his knack for projecting itâ€”that is defeating his victim. If Bollinger had to live as Iranian citizens do, he would know that idealism alone does not suffice. Any number of Iranâ€™s jailed pro-democracy dissidents might be just as eloquent as Bollinger, but we canâ€™t hear their voices. They lack the comfort of his illusions.
At Columbia, Bollinger was in the position of an effete mob boss in any number of gangster movies: slapping his victim around while the poor guyâ€™s arms are pinned back. Ahmadinejad is no hero, and he deserves no sympathy. But that shouldnâ€™t stop us from regarding Bollinger as a weakling, and being rather disgusted by the entire spectacle.
“And, our soldiers don’t just give freedom abroad, they preserve it for us here at home.
For it has been said so truthfully that it is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the agitator, who has given us the freedom to protest.
It is the soldier who salutes the flag, serves beneath the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag, who gives that protester the freedom he abuses to burn that flag.”
— Zell Miller, RNC speech, 2004