There were all sorts of people calling down Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, for his decision to invite Iran's controversial and provocative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak. I am kind of disappointed that Bollinger had to spend 10 minutes trying to “redeem” himself by verbally assaulting his guest. The International Herald Tribune offers snippets of the Bollinger-Ahmadinejad “conversation” that preceded the Iranian president's remarks:
He said, “Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator,” adding, “You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated.” …
[Ahmadinejad responded] “In Iran, tradition requires when you invite a person to be a speaker, we actually respect our students enough to allow them to make their own judgment, and don't think it's necessary before the speech is even given to come in with a series of complaints to provide vaccination to the students and faculty.”
He is right. In general (dating back to ancient tradition), Islamic culture is much more hospitable to guests, even guests that might be considered “enemies.” But, after observing the rudeness of such an opening, Ahmadinejad descended into a practice of avoiding questions and making little sense, except on the point that it was kind of unfair for the West to assuage their guilt over the Holocaust by taking land away from Palestine. And the point that the U.S. had nuclear weapons, why is it our right to force others not to have them?
But, ultimately, the point is that in America, it's the right of crazy people to speak. Perhaps as a foreigner he isn't entitled to the same Constitutional protections. But I think it's great that he got this press. We should be able to hear his ideas. And we should be able to talk about them, and then decide what we feel about them. He brings up interesting points. I don't agree with almost all of them, and I don't agree with nearly all of his governing policies in Iran.
Allowing Ahmadinejad to speak illustrates this important point: In America, we'll hear all of his words. Just go to YouTube, and watch all the parts that make it up. Several channels (from C-Span to Fox News) carried the speech live. In Iran, I'm fairly certain that only a few select parts will be seen. And such an opportunity of a long speech would never be offered to opponents of Ahmadinejad in Iran. No matter how reasonable he tried to sound, and his lip-service to freedom of speech and ideas, Iran has back-slided in terms of freedom since the election of Ahmadinejad.
Tags: Ahmadinejad, Columbia University Ahmadinejad, Middle East politics, Lee Bollinger,