September 25, 2007

Having Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speak at Columbia University "is required by existing norms of free speech," says Lee C. Bollinger.

Here's the text of the speech by Columbia University president Lee C. Bollinger as he gave the stage to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday. Bollinger has a lot to say about free speech -- freedom of speech is his specialty in legal scholarship -- and there's no way to tell how much of this is sincere opinion and how much is an effort to shore up his reputation and the reputation of his university. He has a complex task in giving this speech. He must introduce the speaker and justify having him there, but he also wants to appease or one-up the critics who say the speaker doesn't belong on the stage at all.

Let's look:
First, since 2003, the World Leaders Forum has advanced Columbia’s longstanding tradition of serving as a major forum for robust debate, especially on global issues. It should never be thought that merely to listen to ideas we deplore in any way implies our endorsement of those ideas, or the weakness of our resolve to resist those ideas or our naiveté about the very real dangers inherent in such ideas. It is a critical premise of freedom of speech that we do not honor the dishonorable when we open the public forum to their voices. To hold otherwise would make vigorous debate impossible.

Second, to those who believe that this event never should have happened, that it is inappropriate for the University to conduct such an event, I want to say that I understand your perspective and respect it as reasonable. The scope of free speech and academic freedom should itself always be open to further debate. As one of the more famous quotations about free speech goes, it is “an experiment, as all life is an experiment.” I want to say, however, as forcefully as I can, that this is the right thing to do and, indeed, it is required by existing norms of free speech, the American university, and Columbia itself.
Required? Not just an acceptable option? "[T]his is the right thing to do"... "it is required" -- what is the antecedent for "this" and "it"? Having Ahmadinejad speak? You can't give the big stage at a prestigious university to everyone who wants it. Is he only referring to the generic idea that debate required and debate requires opposing voices? Bollinger claims to be stating his argument "as forcefully as I can," and the word "required" is forceful, but, oddly, you can't tell what exactly he thinks is required.

"It should never be thought that merely to listen to ideas we deplore in any way implies our endorsement of those ideas." But giving the big stage at a prestigious university is not "merely to listen," Ahmadinejad represents something more than "ideas," and the ideas that he has are not merely ideas that "we deplore in any way." Yet Bollinger denies that giving a high platform to one speaker implies any special respect: "[W]e do not honor the dishonorable when we open the public forum to their voices." Public forum? This isn't a street corner where everyone gets to say what they want. It is not just any "public forum" when you highlight one speaker like that. The university's speech is implied: This is someone worth listening to.

Now, Columbia has its World Leaders Forum, and you might say that Ahmadinejad fits the framework of that speaker series so well that to exclude him would be to betray the commitment to debate. But then define the program and say why this is so. The university's website says: "The Forum brings together a wide range of governmental leaders, influential citizens, and intellectuals from many nations to examine global challenges and explore cultural perspectives," but under the question "Can my country's leader participate?" it only gives an email address. The actual standard to be applied is not stated. Presumably, the university preserves its discretion to make individual decisions, in private, about which leaders will speak and which will not.

Will Bollinger provide a list of all the requests received and which leaders were given the forum and which were denied it? Will Bollinger offer a principled definition of who belongs in the World Leaders Forum so that we can see what speech the university is "required" to present and so that we can know a high-level commitment to open debate when we see it?

Back to excerpts from Bollinger's speech:
[T]his event has nothing whatsoever to do with any “rights” of the speaker but only with our rights to listen and speak. We do it for ourselves.
This is a solid point. I like it. But I want to understand how it squares with the earlier statement that the event "is required." I appreciate the emphasis on the audience's right to receive information, but if it is our right, why are we required? Don't we also have the right to withhold the respect of a lofty podium to individuals whose hateful ideas we abhor and whose actions we regard as murderous? The point must be we wanted to hear him. Say why!
We do it in the great tradition of openness that has defined this nation for many decades now. We need to understand the world we live in, neither neglecting its glories nor shrinking from its threats and dangers. It is consistent with the idea that one should know thine enemies, to have the intellectual and emotional courage to confront the mind of evil and to prepare ourselves to act with the right temperament.
So the implication is: This man is evil. This is our chance to study him in the flesh, to understand the mind of evil and to build our confidence in our values as we face up to him.

Now, Bollinger is framing the event and boxing Ahmadinejad in. What we have here is not really a normal speaker that we might provide a forum for, but more of an object of study for you to abhor in person. I present the monster. It's quite unusual to bring in a guest and then introduce him that way. Or is it a World Leaders Forum tradition? Prove it!

Bollinger exercises his free speech rights describing the monster's evil to his face and questioning the monster about why he is such a monster. Excerpts:
Iran hanged up to 30 people this past July and August during a widely reported suppression of efforts to establish a more open, democratic society in Iran. Many of these executions were carried out in public view, a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party.

These executions and others have coincided with a wider crackdown on student activists and academics accused of trying to foment a so-called “soft revolution”. This has included jailing and forced retirements of scholars....

Why have women, members of the Baha’i faith, homosexuals and so many of our academic colleagues become targets of persecution in your country?...

In a December 2005 state television broadcast, you described the Holocaust as a “fabricated” “legend.” One year later, you held a two-day conference of Holocaust deniers.

For the illiterate and ignorant, this is dangerous propaganda....

Will you cease this outrage?...

Twelve days ago, you said that the state of Israel “cannot continue its life.”...

According to reports by the Council on Foreign Relations, it’s well documented that Iran is a state sponsor of terror that funds such violent group as the Lebanese Hezbollah, which Iran helped organize in the 1980s, the Palestinian Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. ...

Why do you support well-documented terrorist organizations that continue to strike at peace and democracy in the Middle East, destroying lives and civil society in the region?...

In a briefing before the National Press Club earlier this month, General David Petraeus reported that arms supplies from Iran, including 240mm rockets and explosively formed projectiles, are contributing to “a sophistication of attacks that would by no means be possible without Iranian support.”...

Can you tell them and us why Iran is fighting a proxy war in Iraq by arming Shi’a militia targeting and killing U.S. troops?...

Why does your country continue to refuse to adhere to international standards for nuclear weapons verification in defiance of agreements that you have made with the UN nuclear agency?
Bollinger ends by telling Ahmadinejad that he probably lacks "the intellectual courage to answer these questions." If you know he won't, why have him speak? Bollinger anticipates and answers that question: Avoiding the questions "will in itself be meaningful to us." And performing that avoidance in public will "exhibit the fanatical mindset that characterizes so much of what you say and do." And that will be helpful, because it will "only further undermines your position in Iran with all the many good-hearted, intelligent citizens there." Let's hope so. Ahmadinejad does look bad in the video clips I've seen. I hope that furthers the cause of his opponents in Iran, and if it does, then, thank you, Lee Bollinger.

Bollinger concludes:
I am only a professor, who is also a university president, and today I feel all the weight of the modern civilized world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for. I only wish I could do better.
But it's easy to do better. You make me vomit, you hateful bastard. But you can't do that when you're presenting a man on a prestigious stage. You have to use polite language.

Oh, I'm yearning, yearning to express myself. But I am only I am only a professor, only a poor wee little professor a humble little incredibly prestigious university, which I also happen to be president of... yet I must yearn and yearn to express myself.... here where I control the stage and decide who will speak and who will not...


So, okay, he made the best of a bad situation that he brought upon himself.

IN THE COMMENTS: Smilin' Jack writes:
I wonder if Bollinger himself wrote the invitation to Ahmadinejad...if so it must have read something like this:

Dear Hateful Monster:

I yearn to express my revulsion at everything you stand for, so please come and speak at Columbia. Tell us your deplorable ideas in order to strengthen our resolve to resist them. Then we will ask questions in order to learn more about you, our enemy. But you will be too cowardly to answer them.


RSVP, Lee

49 comments:

Gedaliya said...

Bollinger ends by telling Ahmadinejad that he probably lacks "the intellectual courage to answer these questions." If you know he won't, why have him speak?

Nail...hammer...head.

AntonK said...

In his plea to the Yale Political Union not to host a Commuist Party functionary in 1963, Williiam Buckley referred to those such as Ahmadinejad and enjoined his audience:

Fight him, fight the tyrants everywhere, but do not ask them to your quarters, merely to spit on them, and do not ask them to your quarters if you cannot spit on them. To do the one is to ambush a human being as one migjht a rabid dog; to do the other is to ambush oneself, to force onself, in disregard of those who have died trying to make the point, to break faith with humanity.

In inviting Ahmadinejad to its quarters as an honored guest, today Columbia broke faith with America and, in Buckley's terms, with humanity.

The above is from this excellent past at Powerline: http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2007/09/018558.php

Adrian said...

This whole thing reminded me of David Mamet's great play Oleanna, have you read it? Bollinger pompously thinks the event was about him displaying his superior intellect and reason, when Ahmadinejad rightly understood that it wasn't about reason, but simply about power, and the very powerful spectacle of commanding the stage from ultimately weak, helpless Bollinger. The point wasn't that Ahmadinejad refused to answer the questions, the point is that in the very act of brazenly refusing to answer the questions, he shows everyone that he's in charge and thoroughly belittles Bollinger.

Also, Hewitt was talking last night about how Bollinger had a lot of chutzpah to invoke the memories of Columbia's military alums in his speech, when Columbia forbid ROTC recruiting from campus!

Pogo said...

Another example of the left thinking it can talk its way through anything.

Willfully forgotten by the left is Carter's pusillanimous negotiations with this man and the other hostage takers, then Carter's pitiful botched rescue attempt. They were laughing at us, parading our citizens bound and gagged in front of TV cameras.

That is, until Reagan was elected, and Ahmadinejad and his pals shit their collective pants and released them all. But the left learned nothing. Ahmadinejad repects only force, and we should happy to give it to him, good and hard.

Bollinger doesn't seem to realize how cowardly and small the whole event made him appear. In Iran, a man like him would never haver been hanged like those 30 he mentioned, because he is at heart a coward, and would never have doen this in Iran. He knows he can 'talk tough' to a killer in this forum and fear nothing, because the US would save him, even though he won't let the US military on his campus.

What an asshole.

AllenS said...

This is Columbia and Bollinger's version of sticking it to the man. Remember, this is the same group that invited the Minutemen to the college and then shouted them down. Why invite people that you don't like, and then dis them? Bollinger talks about our military as if he is proud of them, and then won't let ROTC on campus. What a disengenuous little b*st*rd.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Remember, this is the same group that invited the Minutemen to the college and then shouted them down.

Well keep in mind that this school is also where the Dean said that even if Hitler wanted a platform to speak, he could find it there if he chose to debate.

The Minuteman on the other hand hold positions that are simply beyond the tolerable.

How some of these 'acadamiens' even manage to tie thier shoes amazes me.

Tim said...

"...and there's no way to tell how much of this is sincere opinion and how much is an effort to shore up his reputation and the reputation of his university."

But we can pretty much figure it out, can't we?

All one needs to know about Columbia and Bollinger is that Ahmadinejad was welcomed to speak, albeit rudely, while the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) the develops the military officers that fight and die to defend Columbia's academic freedom and Bollinger's free speech rights are not welcome.

Columbia and Bollinger have proven themselves worthy of the likes of Ahmadinejad; they have proven themselves unworthy of the ROTC and those who join. They will always be amongst the first squealing for free speech rights under the slightest provocation, rights they make no effort to defend other than in useless manifestos.

Words are cheap to academics like Bollinger; actions speak much louder, and we know him by his.

hdhouse said...

ahhh what part of free speech don't you understand?

that some of you write with the same of thorough thought that this clown speaks with?

let's face it. you don't like liberals and you have institutions like Columbia because of your perception of it cranking out liberal tree-huggers a mile a minute; verily a threat to you for some reason.

The event was what it was. It solved nothing, it provided grist for thought and it was a start of sorts.

When Mr. Bush gets out of the wild west saloon where the "stranger in town with strange ways" is just itching for a shootout I can tell type of thinking I'll be happier. It is just like having a bad neighbor move in on your block...you have two choices 1. go over and tell him/her what irritates you and point a direction for change. 2. is to burn down his house.

2 might feel good and get right to the point but 1 is civilized and preferable. Didn't Columbia pick #2?

save_the_rustbelt said...

I didn't catch the entire comment but I think I heard George Bush this morning dismiss the controversy with a comment about free speech in a democratic country.

If that is the case I guess this controversy dies quickly.

vet66 said...

Bollinger downplays the significance of Ahmadinejad's very appearance on western media and at Columbia University.

Message to Bollinger and his ivory tower cohorts; Ahmadinejad is using you and your universtiy as a photo op around the world to show the ummah what a weak and ineffectual fool you are.

Bollinger is confusing western freedom of speech with muslim dhimmitude. Bollinger is speaking truth to power but the power is Ahmadinejad's and not his weak and failing institution.

Perception is everything, as we have been told over and over. Ahmadinejad understands this. The cloistered Bollinger and his faculty of left-wing America haters just got had!

jane said...

Of course, Ahmedmadman and fundy Muslims are using his appearance at a prestigious American university to their propaganda benefit. The Arab press is free to frame this instance of so-called "free speech" anyway it likes. The American audience already knows what Mahmoud is like. What a ridiculous assertion that he needed to be heard and confronted.

Bollinger's a pompous preening poseur, but I'm more disappointed in the students who attended Mahmoud's speech and didn't wear bikinis, tees with pigs on them, big crosses and Stars of David, or cross-dress.

Michael Reynolds said...

Sorry, but you're wrong.

The various points having to do with rhetorical consistency are fine, but essentially irrelevant.

Refusing Ahmadinejad this opportunity would have signaled weakness, not strength. It would have translated as such in Iran. It would have made us look insecure.

Instead the Iranian president ended up submitting to a tongue-lashing. Later he's laughed at by the students. He's humiliated. That won't go down well with the real powers in Iran. Derisive laughter is never a good thing for a person who takes themselves seriously.

This worked out rather well for our team. Badly for their team. It was a win.

paul a'barge said...

Personally, I think that the number of words used by a university professor, like the number of gays executed by diminutive fascists, is inversely proportional to the length of their penis.

But that's just me. Prehaps I could be wrong.

Gedaliya said...

Brett Stephens weighs in. An excerpt:

[In a 1952 essay, Lionel] Trilling took the point a step further, assailing the intelligentsia's habit of treating politics as a "nightmare abstraction" and "pointing to the fearfulness of the nightmare as evidence of their sense of reality." To put this in the context of Mr. Coatsworth's hypothetical, Trilling might have said that in hosting and perhaps debating Hitler, Columbia's faculty and students would not have been "confronting" him, much as they might have gulled themselves into believing they were. Hitler at Columbia would merely have been a man at a podium, offering his "ideas" on this or that, and not the master of a huge terror apparatus bearing down on you. To suggest that such an event amounts to a confrontation, or offers a perspective on reality, is a bit like suggesting that one "confronts" a wild animal by staring at it through its cage at a zoo.

And then:

So there is Adolf Hitler on our imagined stage, ranting about the soon-to-be-fulfilled destiny of the Aryan race. And his audience of outstanding Columbia men are mostly appalled, as they should be. But they are also engrossed, and curious, and if it occurs to some of them that the man should be arrested on the spot they don't say it. Nor do they ask, "How will we come to terms with his world?" Instead, they wonder how to make him see "reason," as reasonable people do.

In just a few years, some of these men will be rushing a beach at Normandy or caught in a firefight in the Ardennes. And the fact that their ideas were finer and better than Hitler's will have done nothing to keep them and millions of their countrymen from harm, and nothing to get them out of its way.

jane said...

"Refusing Ahmadinejad this opportunity would have signaled weakness"

Why, sure. Let's not refuse the man responsible for the death of US troops, innocent Iraqis, Iranian women and gays the opportunity to speak at all our other universities, before a joint session of Congress, at the National Cathedral, at a bar mitzvah or two, and at the county fair.

Let us welcome him to our dinner tables, people.

Roger said...

Somehow I think the President summarized the situation quite nicely. I am betting that no minds were changed as a result of the visit, that Bollinger had to do what he did to keep the alumni happy and those endowment checks coming, and that Ahmedinejad will play the thing to good effect back in Iran. I love a win-win.

MadisonMan said...

I'm more disappointed in the students who attended Mahmoud's speech and didn't wear bikinis, tees with pigs on them, big crosses and Stars of David, or cross-dress.

Definitely. Two babes in bikinis should've introduced him, and linked arms around him. That would've been a photo-op!

Hoosier Daddy said...

Two babes in bikinis should've introduced him, and linked arms around him. That would've been a photo-op.

Better yet would have been two gay men.

Flaming ones at that.

Then they could take him on What Not to Wear and let Stacy and Clinton have at him.

Gedaliya said...

I love a win-win.

This was a lose-lose for the United States and all those who love liberty.

It was a disaster.

Roger said...

Gaydalia--I should have put a sarcasm tag on my post.

Gedaliya said...

Sorry...you're right. My bad.

The Drill SGT said...

hdhouse said...
ahhh what part of free speech don't you understand?


HD, I understand free speech fairly well. My complaint is with Columbia rather than the Iranians. Iran is consistent. Columbia doesn't seem to understand, let's compare:

Ahmadinejad executes gays, lots of them. Gets free speech rights at Columbia

Army implements Pub.L. 103-160 (10 U.S.C. § 654) passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by Clinton. For this, Columbia leads the FAIR fight to keep Army recruiters and ROTC from exercising its free speech rights on Columbia.

why the difference in application of free speech?

Richard Dolan said...

Free speech had nothing to do with it. No one was trying to censor Ahmandinejad -- that would be impossible in all events -- and whether he was granted a forum at Columbia had nothing to do with his right to speak freely. Bollinger's substantive point was the "open forum" idea of the university, where the "marketplace of ideas" does the work of sifting the good from the bad. He combined it with a version of the "teaching moment" cliche -- inviting the students to regard Ahmadinejad as a kind of lab rat, to be poked and studied and "understood" but not respected.

It's important to recognize the value at the core of the "open forum" idea of the university. Conservatives more often complain (rightly) about the university's faithlessness to that principle, while celebrating the principle itself. (That is also the reason why complaints about the hypocrisy with which university administrators apply the "open forum" principle don't answer Bollinger's argument -- a charge of hypocrisy merely indicts the speaker for betraying his own principles, but does not indict the principles themselves.) The tension at the heart of the "open forum" principle characterizes all of classical liberalism. The usual frame for the argument casts that tension in terms of the limits of tolerance -- the lack of such limits, so it is said, implies a lack of standards combined with a lack of the will to stand up for them. You could see all of that playing out here.

Bollinger didn't put it in those terms, but functionally he framed the issue that way by trying to use the classic corrective mechanism to resolve the inevitable clash -- here, the "marketplace of ideas" to deal with intolerable speech in the "open forum."

While Ahmandinejad was the speaker that brought all of this to the fore today, he's had many predecessors. The same clash was at work in the Larry Summers kerfuffle (both at Harvard and with the U Cal Regents), Kevin Barrett mess, every time the univerity seeks to enforce orthodox PC-thought, etc. Ann is clearly right in saying that Bollinger "made the best of a bad situation that he brought upon himself." But for those who think the issues are simple, you're likely to find yourself impaled on the same charge of hypocrisy that is being thrown at Bollinger.

PatCA said...

The speech was not relevant to free speech: The Iranian has open access to all our media, including 60 Minutes. Who is repressing his speech again?

It was not educational, nor a debate. He did not answer the pre-selected questions or allow himself to be challenged.

Not one second of Bollinger's mealy-mouthed self-pitying apologia will be played on the airways of the Middle East. The applause of the brainwashed audience will.

Again, Bollinger is an impotent fool and has done his school and his country great harm.

The Drill SGT said...

Richard,

Good argument. I don't know if I buy into it, or understand it completely, but it's rational.

I'm conflicted on lots of levels about Ahmandinejad:

1. I think Bollinger should not have invited him to Columbia because I think that some regimes and leaders don't deserve the platform and imprimatur of Columbia, such that it is. Ahmandinejad has plenty of forums to talk at, the UN being one of them. He isn't shut out of the marketplace like Larry Summers, that pariah of academia.

2. Having said that, I think Bollinger was rude and petty. I would have taken a different tack I think. I'll call it the free society comparison. The audience would have been Iranian students, not the NYT. Talk about the freedoms available in the US compared to Iran. Talk about the ability of Ahmandinejad, our avowed enemy to come here and speak, yet, comparable events are forbidden in Iran, etc.

3. I see hypocrisy in Columbia's non viewpoint neutral free speech operation.

- foreign killers get free speech

- US citizens like Summers or recruiters or Minutemen do not.

Inspektor Friedrich said...

Richard Dolan has, as ever, given us an exceptionally well-written and thoughtful analysis.

All I can add is, thank you.

It is always a pleasure to see his name in these comments.

Ignacio said...

What mattered was the subverbal impression left, and in this realm Admadinejad easily prevailed, as no doubt he knew he would. The words spoken were irrelevant.

Richard Fagin said...

"[bu]t you can't do that when you're presenting a man on a prestigious stage." That is the entire problem. Bollinger has granted prestige to a monster, prestige that was totally within Bollinger's control to grant or deny. To have displayed such moral vanity as to give the stage to Ahmadinejad in the name of free speech says a lot more about Bollinger than it does about Ahmadinejad, and it ain't pretty. What possible conversation need we have with a monster. Do I have to stick my hand in the snake pit to know the rattlers and the cobras will strike? It is moral vanity to believe that somehow the monster is suscpetible to reason; that granting him prestige will somehow affect the monster's conscience. The monster uses such moral vanity against us, and does so ruthlessly.

To describe Bollinger as an idiot is an insult to idiots. Even people with IQs lower than channel numbers of UHF television stations know this Iranian for what he is.

hdhouse said...

The Drill SGT said...
"Columbia leads the FAIR fight to keep Army recruiters and ROTC from exercising its free speech rights on Columbia."

What free speech rights do you mean? Is the Army an employer or not? Does the university have a right to restrict or exclude a potential employer from the use of the campus for recruitment? Are there no recruiting stations in NYC? or are you asserting that the Army wants to make a "speech" for purposes other than recruitment? A political speech perhaps? One about the wonders of the grand canyon? Howabout a seminar on tank tread design?..

What exactly do you have in mind when you say something like this?

John said...

Even if you give Bollinger the benefit of the doubt, his naivety is astounding. Bollinger really believed that he could have an effect on Iran or Ahmadinejad by taking him to task. All that will happen as a result of this is the Iranian government and media will edit the tapes of his appearance carefully to make it look like he Ahmadinejad was received warmly and cheered at Columbia. This thing is a propaganda coo for Ahmadinejad. These tapes will be edited and shown over and over again in Iran. Ahmadinejad's appearance at Columbia will do nothing but strengthen his government and further demoralize dissidents. We know now that during the cold war that Soviet dissidents were greatly helped by statements of support from the West. Things like Reagan's evil empire speech had a real and positive effect on the moral and effectiveness of dissidents. You have to remember most people are not dissidents or apparatchiks in a totalitarian society. Most people are in the middle and just want to get along. The task for a dissident is to convince those in the middle that the government really is corrupt and horrible. Condemnation by the rest of the world helps in that. At the same time, recognition by the rest of the world hurts because it allows the government to say "look Columbia University cheered our President, we are not an outlaw country, it is the dissidents who are outlaws." Columbia did real damage by doing this.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Is the Army an employer or not? Does the university have a right to restrict or exclude a potential employer from the use of the campus for recruitment?

Does Columbia restrict any other employers from the campus?

Do you find it at all hypocritical that individuals like Ahmadinejad are given a free forum to express themselves but conservative speakers are shouted down, chased off stage or have food thrown at them while trying to speak?

PatCA said...

"Remember, this is the same group that invited the Minutemen to the college and then shouted them down."

Not only that, they physically rushed him on the stage. Either that was assault, or they were just excited about the marketplace of ideas.

SGT Ted said...

"Refusing Ahmadinejad this opportunity would have signaled weakness"

Preposterous. It would have signalled that "You and your totalitarian ideas aren't welcome in a civilized nation."

Gedaliya said...

Lisa Schriffren at NRO posts an excellent observation on the controversy:

And Another Thing...

Michael Reynolds said...

SGT:

I wrote: "Refusing Ahmadinejad this opportunity would have signaled weakness"

You wrote: Preposterous. It would have signalled that "You and your totalitarian ideas aren't welcome in a civilized nation."

Wrong. The object of the game as I see it is to damage Ahmadinejad's credibility and diminish his power. That's what we all presumably want.

A head of state came here, was listened to, was slapped around and and laughed at. That is the result. There's no way to spin that as a victory for the bad guys.

But you only get the chance to ridicule and belittle if you listen first. Refusing to listen grants the opponent standing. He's too terrifying even to listen to.

Put it in pugilistic terms. The anti-Columbia commenters want to forbid the opponent to enter the ring. The better answer is to let him enter the ring, and defeat him. That's why free speech is such a lovely idea. It presupposes that free people, having heard any and all comers, will separate truth from lies and, on balance, in most cases, reach the right decision.

That's exactly what happened here.

Further, the YouTube version of this will go viral all across Iran. Iranians will see the derision that greets their president. It is absurd to imagine that they will feel themselves gratified that their president was allowed to speak at an American college, where he was humiliated.

The Iranian champion went forth and drew catcalls. That's the take-away.

Smilin' Jack said...

I wonder if Bollinger himself wrote the invitation to Ahmadinejad...if so it must have read something like this:

Dear Hateful Monster:

I yearn to express my revulsion at everything you stand for, so please come and speak at Columbia. Tell us your deplorable ideas in order to strengthen our resolve to resist them. Then we will ask questions in order to learn more about you, our enemy. But you will be too cowardly to answer them.

RSVP, Lee

SGT Ted said...

I disagree Michael. We already know what his words and ideas are. We have no need to give him the rights that are denied to the US Armed Forces by their fellow countrymen on that same campus. We give undeserved cover and legitimacy to his bigot nation by allowing him a platform.

How many Iranian dissidents has Columbia invited to speak?

We see the inherent stupidity even in these comments with HDHouse justifying the exclusion of ROTC, which have traditionally been part of the US University, until the Anti-military leftwing bigots excluded them, yet excusing the invitation and appearance of a rank totalitarian who leads a nation that executes homosexuals.

Pogo said...

Re: "Refusing Ahmadinejad this opportunity would have signaled weakness"

You misunderstand Ahmadinejad if you believe that.
____________________________

"You exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel murderer,” Columbia University president Lee Bollinger said to serial killer Ted Bundy.

Bundy's response:
"I think that was an insult to information and the knowledge of the audience here. In a university environment we must allow people to speak their mind, to allow everyone to talk so that the truth is eventually revealed by all. And the truth is, I like to assault and kill women."

Bollinger avers: Bundy avoiding the questions about his heinous acts "will in itself be meaningful to us."
_________________________________

"You exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel cannibal,” Columbia University president Lee Bollinger said to mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer, in their continuing series exploring evil.

Dahmer's response:
"I think that was an insult to the audience here. In a university environment we must allow people to speak their mind so that the truth is eventually revealed by all. And the truth is, I like to kill and eat people. Especially the mind part. Yummy."

Bollinger notes: Dahmer avoiding the questions about his unlawful acts "will in itself be meaningful to us."

Michael Reynolds said...

SGT:

We already know what his words and ideas are.

We as in you and I do because, I'm guessing, we're both political junkies. I'm not sure we can assume that everyone knew, or that as many people knew as now know. In fact I did not know that Ahmadinejad would simply deny the existence of gays in Iran. That was new -- to me at any rate, and almost certainly to most Americans.

We have no need to give him the rights that are denied to the US Armed Forces by their fellow countrymen on that same campus.

That's a legitimate beef with Columbia U, and one where we'd be on the same side. But it's irrelevant to the question of whether this thing hurt or helped Iran or the US. In fact I suspect Mr. A's performance eroded the wall between Columbia and the US military just a tiny bit.

How many Iranian dissidents has Columbia invited to speak?

I don't know. But I doubt they'd object to Iranian dissidents speaking. Mr. Bollinger seemed quite well-informed on Iran's various crimes. In any event, it's not relevant to the matter at hand, although it is certainly relevant to people's opinions of the Columbia U. administration.

To me the issue here is not free speech, per se, or the general behavior of Columbia U, but whether we won or lost the day, whether we were hurt or helped, and whether Iran was hurt or helped.

Of course we can't know for sure one way or the other, but I think the odds strongly favor the conclusion that this was a good day for our team, and a bad day for theirs.

Superdad said...

I think that many people may be missing the point about the marketplace of ideas. That is, it is a marketplace and thus it is okay for Columbia (or another forum) to choose not to by this crap. That is how the marketplace works; you choose not to listen to the ideas that are just plain stupid, morally repugnant etc. and over time those ideas die because no one is buying.

Mr. Iran could have stood outside the UN and had a press conference where he said whatever he wanted. It would have been covered by the press. There was simply no need to add the legitimacy of Columbia to his ideas. Just being on that stage elevated him to a position of polite disagreement.

If the ideas are not repulsive, or even if they are repulsive but widely accepted then you may need some debates to determine what is the better more salable speech. Not all speech is equal and in the market you don't have to buy the garbage.

Also, lets not forget who his audience was and what his purpose of the speech was. He was speaking to Iranians (not to us) and his message was: the US cannot even stop me from taking the stage at one of their own and most prestigious universities. Lesson: hey freedom seekers of Iran do you really think this country will help you if they can't even stop me from speaking at Columbia. Given the fact that the audience applauded him several times, he won't even need to do that much editing to make it into a nice little propaganda spot.

blake said...

I wonder if Columbia's marketplace of ideas even allows books from rightwingers like Malkin, Limbaugh, Coulter, etc.

Anyone know?

jane said...

I had a too long response hours ago that Blogger ate, so y'all are real lucky. Just want to say, at this point, that am glad Pogo brought up the serial killer angle. Why should Columbia U deny any murderer, terrorist or sick **** his (or her-- PC correct) stage for an "academic" give and take, a little grandstanding by both parties, and a "learning opportunity" for those elite university students who are so grossly uninformed that they haven't read and heard Ahmadman's speeches and pronouncements ad nauseam in the news, tho' Mahmoud gives and makes them with nauseating regularity and the rest of the informed world knows he thrives on confrontation and leverages it to his propaganda purposes in the Muslim, Euro, Chavez and American leftist/ Islamist world?

Bollinger only struck a blow for his ego, not international understanding, and gave a black eye to moral/ national/ academic appropriateness.

ricpic said...

Did it ever occur to Mr. B that this isn't about his exquisitely refined sense of free speech rights, this is about bragging rights, Ahmadadingdong's to be precise: "I thumbed my nose at The Great Satan in his den and returned without a scratch." Potent stuff in the warrior culture from which he springs. Bollinger is just the idiot who handed him a megaphone.

hdhouse said...

blake said...
I wonder if Columbia's marketplace of ideas even allows books from rightwingers like Malkin, Limbaugh, Coulter, etc. Anyone know?"

Why yes blake....if you down to the yellow brick road and take a hard right turn at the fairness fountain, continue on without looking right or left...just in a lubricated gaze forward..always foward, you'll spy a pet goat. That's the kids section. Diatribes and crayon fiction are just beyond it...Dewey Decimal 666.6...all those authors are found there, "ye who have abandoned all hope"...

snarksnarksnarksnarksnark

Revenant said...

blake,

Of course Columbia allows free speech by right-wingers. And when students physically assault the right-wingers in question, why, those students receive a stern warning.

stepskipper said...

And the right winger, well, he/she gets a free pie. In the face.

Tolerance.

vet66 said...

Houseman; regarding the ROTC/military recruitment on campus, I wonder if Columbia accepts money from the U.S. government? Does it take the money and violate the Solomon ammendment?

Why yes I believe they do! And they do that on the grounds of "Don't ask, don't tell" which is a gay rights issue.

No gays in Iran you say? Where did they all go! Check Ahmadinejad's personal photo album of his version of a human wind chime.

garage mahal said...

Stepskipper said...
And the right winger, well, he/she gets a free pie. In the face.

Tolerance.


Coming from a lefty, I can't stop laughing at this post. Hilariously done.

Lesh is More.

Duscany said...

University presidents are such spineless wusses. Bollinger was so panicked at the tidal wave of Jewish opposition to Ahmadinejad that he gave an eggregiously crass introduction that in comparison made Ahmadinejad look good. If I were a Columbia student I'd be exceedingly irate at all the self righteous ideologues trying to decide whom I'm allowed to hear. Given that Bush (along with Israel) will probably bomb Iran before the year is out, why not at least allow Ahmadinejad to have his say first?