If President Bush is not merely paying lip service to promoting democracy in the Middle East, then one thing he needs to do pronto is haul up Lee Bollinger of Columbia University on treason charges. By his inexcusable behavior to President Ahmadinajad, Mr. Bollinger may have set back any hope for rapprochment by decades. As a friend commented, “It’s like inviting someone over for dinner and bashing them up the moment they walk through the door.”
“Why it it important,” you may ask, “to behave respectfully with a man who has not only a repressive regime at home but has also done his fair share of inflammatory rhetoric to keep the region destablilised?” The problem is that our tendency to dehumanise our enemies prevents us from understanding them and without that understanding there is no hope for a peaceful detente. While it may be true that a show of strength is needed to face down Islamic fundamentalism, the velvet glove over the iron fist is as important. If we allow ourselves to respond to President Ahmidanajad’s provocative statements in kind, we have played right into the hands of the Islamic recruiters when they condemn the US as a two-faced imperialistic barbaric power.
Alas, a President who rode to power on a ‘values’ wave has done more to cede the moral ground of the US in the last 6 years than any president before him. First there was the completely unjustified invasion of Iraq, then Abu Ghraib, then the shameful treatment of Iraq veterans..the list goes on and on. Now by not coming out with an immediate reprimand to this kind of rabble-rousing speech, he has only solidified the impression that the touchy region has of Americans as hypocrites, cultural savages and bullies.
So President Ahmadinajad, I apologise for that behavior on the part of my countryman. I may not have a high opinion of your actions in the Middle East and have serious issues with the treatment of women and scholars in your country, but in my home, I will be happy to offer you a cup of chai and listen to what you have to say.