Don’t Major in Public Relations at Columbia University

by Racialicious special correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s appearance at Columbia University on Monday was quite a to-do. There were protesters, mean headlines and caricatures from newspapers, as well as a refusal from NYPD to let Ahmedinejad pay his respects to the victims of 9/11 at Ground Zero.

Well, New York City isn’t known for being friendly.

But at Columbia University, they pride themselves on culture, learning, and civility. Until you disagree with them.

Columbia U. President Lee Bollinger implied that Ahmedinejad’s presence was there to honor the “longstanding tradition of serving as a major forum for robust debate, especially on global issues”. I suppose President Bollinger’s idea of a forum is name-calling.

Bollinger skewered President Ahmedinejad in his introduction for the president. He called him a “petty and cruel dictator,” and implied that he was either a drama queen or an idiot for his statements about Israel.

Now, I understand that many people disagree with President Ahmedinejad, especially about Israel. I happen to think he’s wrong on a lot of different levels. But I’m sure that President Bollinger has heard the saying before that goes “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” And I’m sure he’d realize that if he didn’t want President Ahmedinejad at Columbia, he wouldn’t invite him to speak there. And I’m sure he’s aware that inviting a president of a country to speak at his university and then insulting the president is seen as more than disrespectful, not just to the president, but to the entire country he represents. And I’m sure President Bollinger is aware of the intricacies of Iranian culture, which dictate that President Ahmedinejad act courteously in the face of such a huge insult from his host.

But maybe it’s President Bollinger who is the idiot. To a country that hears nothing but bad about the West, this is seen as yet another insult by Iranians. Many Iranians don’t like Ahmedinejad, but it’s sort of the same rule that applies to your family. Yeah, we can make fun of our siblings as much as we want. But if you make fun of them, you’re insulting all of us, and you’re a jerk. So President Ahmedinejad actually gets out of this mess looking better than his host.

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Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at

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Fatemeh is currently finishing her master's degree. She currently runs a website dedicated to critiquing how Muslim women are portrayed in both Eastern and Western media.