Horowitz Calls Ahmadinejad ‘Persian Hitler’

Several days after the story of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Columbia University visit inflamed the blogosphere, professional outrage monger David Horowitz has weighed in. Robert Stacy McCain has the story on the front page of today’s Washington Times.

Columbia University’s invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at the Ivy League school’s New York City campus tomorrow is a “disgrace,” says conservative author David Horowitz, a Columbia alumnus. “Why are they inviting the Persian Hitler to Columbia?” Mr. Horowitz said in a telephone interview with The Washington Times. “It’s a disgrace. … What Columbia is doing is giving moral support to genocide, and as an alumni, I am deeply ashamed.”


University President Lee Bollinger has said the Ahmadinejad invitation is in keeping with “Columbia’s long-standing tradition of serving as a major forum for robust debate.”

Naming a list of current and former Bush administration officials, Mr. Horowitz said, “Just ask yourself … do you think any of those people would be invited to Columbia by the president of the university under the pretext of a ‘robust debate?’ ”

Mr. Horowitz, the author of more than 20 books, said he’s never been invited to lecture at Columbia, “certainly not by Lee Bollinger.” Currently promoting the paperback edition of his book “The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America,” Mr. Horowitz said: “There are nine professors from Columbia in my book — that should tell you something. No other university has more than about three.”

Columbia’s invitation to Mr. Ahmadinejad is an example of the current climate at America’s universities, he said. “It shows that these people do not appreciate that we’re in a war,” said Mr. Horowitz, who has promoted legislation and organized a campus group, Students for Academic Freedom, to “end political abuse” at universities. “The curriculum today teaches students to be sympathetic to our enemies.”

The very idea that academics, qua academics, can be “dangerous” is baffling; it does, however, put Horowitz’ views on Ahmadinejad into proper perspective. A February 2006 excerpt at his FrontPage site gives a good taste of his argument. Here’s a sampling:

Not all of the professors depicted in this volume hold views as extreme as Ward Churchill’s, but a disturbing number do. All of them appear to believe that an institution of higher learning is an extension of the political arena, and that scholarly standards can be sacrificed for political ends; others are frank apologists for terrorist agendas, and still others are classroom bigots. The dangers such individuals pose to the academic enterprise extend far beyond their own classrooms. The damage a faculty minority can inflict on an entire academic institution, even in the absence of a scandalous figure like Ward Churchill, was recently demonstrated at Harvard, when President Lawrence Summers was censured — the first such censure in the history of the modern research university in America — because Summers had had the temerity to suggest in a faculty setting an idea that was politically incorrect.

One of the professors profiled in this text, Columbia University’s Todd Gitlin, explained the achievements of faculty radicals in an essay that appeared in 2004. After the Sixties, Gitlin wrote, “all that was left to the Left was to unearth righteous traditions and cultivate them in universities. The much-mocked ‘political correctness’ of the next academic generations was a consolation prize. We lost — we squandered the politics — but won the textbooks.”

Because activists ensconced in programmatic fields like Black Studies and Women’s Studies also teach in traditional departments like History and English ,and influence them as well, the statements by Rorty and Gitlin may actually understate the ways in which a radical left has colonized a significant part of the university system and transformed it to serve its political ends. In September 2005, the American Political Science Association’s annual meeting, for example, featured a panel devoted to the question, “Is It Time To Call It Fascism?” meaning the Bush Administration. Given the vibrant reality of American democracy in the year 2005, this was obviously a political rather than a scholarly agenda.

Only at the margins and taken to an extreme is this sort of thing “dangerous.”

Churchill was, until fired for reasons unrelated to his rantings, an underqualified crank teaching in a bogus “discipline” whose very existence is coalesced around a political agenda. Black Studies and Women’s Studies are, with rare exceptions, ideology masquerading as scholarship. The topics they study are often quite important; my strong preference, however, would be for it to be done within the context of more rigid methodologies within departments of history, sociology, political science, or what have you.

Still, these people aren’t dangerous. Most of us reading and writing blogs are products of the university system and were exposed to these ideas along the way. Most of us rejected them as silly even as 18- and 19-year-olds.

Presumably, the answer to “Is It Time To Call It Fascism?” is No. Is a discussion of presidential power and the limitations on civil liberties in the name of national security a worthwhile endeavor for political scientists? Absolutely.

Todd Gitlin couldn’t be much further from me ideologically. Still, when I taught a Politics of Communications class a dozen years ago, I selected one of his books to use as one of the course texts. He’s a leading scholar in the field and he argues his anti-Establishment perspective very well. I don’t think many of the students came away converted to his way of thinking. They were, however, forced to grapple with some ideas that were otherwise foreign to them and to thus re-examine their own. That’s the essence of a university education.

Unlike Churchill, Gitlin, and the other 108 scholars mentioned in the book, Ahmadinejad is a very dangerous man. He expresses some genuinely evil ideas and has the wherewithal to carry some of them out. The idea of him possessing nuclear weapons is frightening.

But . . . the Persian Hitler?

He is, according to prominent human rights groups, a bad guy.

According to Amnesty International, dissidents who oppose the government non-violently face harassment, torture and execution and the election of Ahmadinejad signaled the defeat of “pro-reform” supporters. According to Human Rights Watch, “[r]espect for basic human rights in Iran, especially freedom of expression and assembly, deteriorated in 2006. The government routinely tortures and mistreats detained dissidents, including through prolonged solitary confinement.”

Human Rights Watch described the source of human rights violations in contemporary Iran as coming from on the one hand the Judiciary, accountable to Ali Khamenei, and on the other to members directly appointed by Ahmadinejad. Again according to Human Rights Watch, “[s]ince President Ahmadinejad came to power, treatment of detainees has worsened in Evin prison as well as in detention centers operated clandestinely by the Judiciary, the Ministry of Information, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”

Tolerance of public protest varies under Ahmadinejad. Human Rights Watch writes that “[t]he Ahmadinejad government, in a pronounced shift from the policy under former president Mohammed Khatami, has shown no tolerance for peaceful protests and gatherings.”

    In January 2006 security forces attacked striking bus drivers in Tehran and detained hundreds. The government refused to recognize the drivers’ independent union or engage in collective bargaining with them. In February government forces attacked a peaceful gathering of Sufi devotees in front of their religious building in Qum to prevent its destruction by the authorities, using tear gas and water cannons to disperse them. In March police and plainclothes agents charged a peaceful assembly of women’s rights activists in Tehran and beat hundreds of women and men who had gathered to commemorate International Women’s Day. In June as women’s rights defenders assembled again in Tehran, security forces beat them with batons, sprayed them with pepper gas, marked the demonstrators with sprayed dye, and took 70 people into custody.

Horrible stuff, surely placing him in the running for Most Despicable Dictator.

On the other hand, Hitler is several rungs up the ladder from him in the standings for Most Despicable Dictator of All Time. Ahmadinejad has not, for example, rounded up and systematically murdered millions of people or launched a world war. Were I Jewish, I’d prefer my foreign leaders calling me names and denying that the Holocaust took place to, say, actually conducting a Holocaust.

Further, as I noted last week, Bollinger has not invited Ahmadinejad to a forum presenting him as a hero. He’s insisted that half the time be alloted to questions and answers, including some rather pointed questions of his own about Ahmadinejad’s policies and outrageous statements.

Do I think Bollinger would love to have Karl Rove or Alberto Gonzales or John Ashcroft or Dick Cheney in for such a forum? Absolutely. He’d do it tomorrow, I’d bet. My guess, however, is that none of them would actually submit themselves to the process.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Cernig says:

    I don’t recall that Hitler was time-limited by his nation’s constitution to two terms maximum, ending in 2014 even if Ahminutjob manages to win a second term ( a dubious proposition). It’s difficult to take any description of a term-limited president who isn’t even the final say-so in his nation as a “dictator” as anything more than the writer buying the narrative wholesale.

    The Grand Ayatollah of iran is certainly closer to a dictator, but then again there’s that grand council of clerics that Rhafsanjanhi now leads…hmm. A junta of clerics with signs of movement towards a more moderate stance is about all that can be said, really. A theocracy with internal divisions in which moderates show signs of regaining ascendancy. Which is a good thing because their human rights record sucks.

    But that just isn’t as a-bomb-inable.

    Regards, C

  2. James Joyner says:

    I agree that there are some limitations on Ahmadinejad’s power that make him somewhat different from traditional dictators. He is, however, incredibly powerful in a way that even the most robust presidents in legitimate democracies aren’t.

    The last election was almost certainly rigged, with Ahmadinejad coming out of nowhere to “win.”

    And there are essentially no protections of individual rights, as Ahmadinejad’s ability to order opponents rounded up, tortured, and killed attests.

  3. Cernig says:

    Hi James,

    The same could all be said ,and more definitively, of Mushraff. No-one is calling him a Hitler.

    Indeed, “Ahmadinejad’s ability to order opponents rounded up, tortured, and killed attests” doesn’t appear to extend to rivals of Ahmadinejad himself within the regime, just to rivals of the regime as a whole.

    “Dictator” may seem like convenient shorthand, but it only perpetuates misunderstandings of the true complexity of the situation and thus enables the rhetoric of those who would use nukes on Tehran tomorrow.

    “He is, however, incredibly powerful in a way that even the most robust presidents in legitimate democracies aren’t.” That, I agree with. But it hardly makes him the demon the narrative wants and demands. He isn’t unique in having those qualities and several of his peers are U.S. allies.

    Regards, C

  4. James Joyner says:

    If it’s not clear from the post, I’m disagreeing with the “Ahmadinejad is a Persian Hitler” meme. I think he’s dangerous as a state sponsor of major terrorists group who’s actively seeking nuclear weapons. But he ain’t Hitler.

  5. Rumbler says:

    Hitlerino would be right nickname, not Hitler.

  6. Anderson says:

    My guess, however, is that none of them would actually submit themselves to the process.


  7. Mike Volpe says:

    I cannot believe what I am reading. First, this is the same Columbia that let students intimidate and talk down Jim Gilchrist. To say that they are merely looking for all sides and prominent Reps just would not submit themselves to Columbia is just pla?n ridiculous.

    Ahmadinejad is a sociopathic and evil tyrant. He is on his way to turning words into actions against his enemies. Inviting him to speak anywhere in the US including Columbia is not only insulting but counter productive. All this does is welcome him into the world community just when he is being isolated.

  8. Anderson says:

    To say that they are merely looking for all sides and prominent Reps just would not submit themselves to Columbia is just pla?n ridiculous.

    Hi, Mike! I don’t know about you, but I’m writing from the United States of America, where George W. Bush has set the example for Republicans by almost invariably refusing to appear before any audience that’s not controlled by his handlers or selected to screen out dissent.

    I’m glad to see you starting to pay attention to American politics, and if you’ll look around, you’ll gather the validity of Mr. Joyner’s point.

  9. Anonymous says:

    As a current student of Columbia who is a strong believer of the first amendment, I support the discussion CU is holding. The CU President is the nation’s leading scholar on the first amendment, he understands what it means – free speech for everyone.

  10. The issue isn’t whether or not Ahmadinejad is the Persian Hitler; it’s whether or not Iran is the Persian Germany. Hitler was only dangerous because he had control of the world’s larget military and second largest economy. Iran is dwarfishly small on both accounts.

  11. James Joyner says:

    Hitler was only dangerous because he had control of the world’s larget military and second largest economy. Iran is dwarfishly small on both accounts.

    Iran has a sizable oil economy, is behind several major terrorist groups, and is rapidly working to become a nuclear weapons state.

  12. Grewgills says:

    Hitler was only dangerous because he had control of the world’s larget military and second largest economy. Iran is dwarfishly small on both accounts.

    Iran has a sizable oil economy, is behind several major terrorist groups, and is rapidly working to become a nuclear weapons state.

    Do you really think that Iran today poses anywhere close to the threat of Germany in the 30s?
    As far as the axis powers go, at best (worst?) they are parallel in power/danger to Italy.

  13. davea0511 says:

    Of course Rove, Ashcroft, etc would not accept such an invitation, but for entirely different reasons than you suggest. Any well known conservative would be treated like Jim Gilchrist was, and no patriotic citizen would knowingly enable another similar event to Gilchrist’s that so humiliated the state of academic dialog – where no dialog was permitted to happen and the forum was reduced to mob rule by Columbia’s ultra-liberal left.