29 September 2007

Free Speech and Columbia

It’s been about a week now, and I suppose I’ve let enough time pass to think a little more clearly about the recent invitation of Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia University.

Constitutionally protected free speech is, in my opinion, only guaranteed to US citizens. Extending rights to others is a dangerous place to go and invites selectively allowing other legal standards to take precedence over the Constitution. Ahmadinejad has no more right to come to the United States and participate in free speech than anyone else. In my opinion, there must be an invitation extended and, theoretically, vetted by the State Department. There’s probably some fine legal point that I’m missing here, but it seems to me that there should be some standard applied here. Perhaps it might help if Iran is designated as a terrorist harboring country or an element of the Iranian structure is considered, legally, a terrorist organization.

In any event, Ahmadinejad did come and speak at Columbia, and was promptly knee-capped by Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia. I know it sounds needlessly courteous, but there should have been a different situation set up.

Surely Columbia could have set up a situation in which Ahmadinejad would have to answer pointed, legitimate, hard-hitting questions by serious critical thinkers. Certainly there are one or two of those laying around the halls of Columbia. These men and women could have taken Ahmadinejad to task over his statements about the Holocaust, Israel, the Iranian nuclear program, and human rights.

It’s not my feel that this happened. Ahmadinejad was allowed to grandstand, and perhaps it says something more about the ideological pigeon-holing of critical thought at Columbia and other universities. I’m obviously not one to seriously criticize the entire university system, or parts of it for that matter. But it seems quite obvious that the apparatus there did not seriously consider what a visit from a foreign thug would stir up. I guess Bolliger’s exit strategy was to do a verbal drive-by during his introduction. It was a shallow reaction to a bad decision.

And then there’s the deeper question of whether or not a guy like Ahmadinejad ought to be able to propagate his twisted point of view in an American institution. I feel is that he ought not. And if he is, he should be confronted verbally by those who are up to the task of dismantling the strange, warped arguments the man makes.

1 comment:

kmb said...

sorry to have been absent from your blog. my office burned down and it's been an incredible pain trying to salvage what we can and get set up somewhere else. anyway... hope you are well. p.s. as to politics, don't you think it's ridiculous that the media spends time discussing Clinton's barking laughter and the appropriateness of her outfits versus her proposed policies? i'm soooo tired of it...