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Vivian Salama

USA/Middle East

Vivian Salama is an award-winning reporter, producer and blogger. Currently based in Lahore, Pakistan, she has reported for various publications from across the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Balkans, the United States and North and South Korea. more »

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Columbia Students and Iranian Academics Respond to Bolinger

Even though Ahmedinejad fever is dying down in the mainstream media, students at Columbia University have not forgotten the blistering introductory remarks their university President Lee Bollinger delivered on Monday.

A petition is now circulating among students that calls on Bollinger to explain and apologize for his "inflammatory" remarks ahead of Iranian President Ahmedinejad’s speech. In the letter, students insist Bollinger "disgraced the spirit of academic exchange and diplomacy that this institution promotes."

They also say the comments limited their ability to benefit from such a rare opportunity, adding "it is particularly distressing that [Bollinger's] inflammatory words were delivered at a time when dialogue with Iran is of the utmost importance in an effort to forestall war."

Criticism of Bollinger's remarks extends to the far reaches of the globe. Regardless of their views towards Ahmedinejad, many have said that Bollinger -- an expert in free speech and the First Amendment -- should not have imposed his personal views (or the views of those against inviting Ahmedinejad) in a forum that claims to promote open academic discourse.

In his introduction Monday afternoon at Columbia's World Leaders Forum, Bollinger slammed the Iranian leader for displaying "all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator." He accused the Islamic Republic of serving as a "state sponsor of terrorism" and a supporter of "well-documented terrorist organizations that continue to strike at peace and democracy in the Middle East."

Since the event, a rebuttal has circulated online from ten Iranian academics demanding that Bollinger answer questions of a similar nature to those he asked Ahmedinejad during his visit. Some of the questions asked by these academics are as follows:

- 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 dictatorship?

- 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?

- 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?

Meanwhile Columbia students, who emphasize that Ahmedinejad is "president of a sovereign nation," insist that regardless of the public's views toward the Iranian leader, the speech delivered by the Unviersity President was "a disservice to [the] academic community."

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