|An 16-year old Iranian woman is buried up to her waist in preparation for death by stoning. For more on this practice, check here and here.|
“The freest women in the world are women in Iran.”
— Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, National Press Club speech, 24 September 2007
Columbia University has provided Ahmadinejad a platform for his propaganda. CU has legitimized evil and lent a murderous madman a microphone to the world. In this suicidal triumph of tolerance over reason, CU has earned an everlasting shame.
President Bollinger’s sophomoric conception of free speech is precisely the sort of supine intellectualism that, if consistently embraced, would make free speech impossible. President Bollinger primly lectures us that “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,” etc. But he is quite wrong about that. By providing a madman like Ahmadinejad with a platform at Columbia University, President Bollinger has in effect welcomed him into the community of candid reasoners. He has granted him a patent of legitimacy that no amount of “dialogue and reason” can dissipate. In this case, “listening” is indeed tantamount to an endorsement. It reduces free speech to a species of political capitulation and renders dialogue indistinguishable from a suicide pact.
Where, if anywhere, would President Bollinger and his colleagues draw the line? The Regents of the University of California just rescinded an offer to Larry Summers, the former president of Harvard University, because his presence on campus was offensive to the delicate sensibilities of feminists. (I had more to say about the original Summers debacle here.) So we know where the Regents of the University of California are wont to draw their line. It excludes a former President of Harvard. Meanwhile, at Stanford, there is an uproar about offering former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld a fellowship at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace. So we know where Stanford would draw the line: in the name of “tolerance” it would exclude a lifelong public servant who was twice Secretary of Defense of the United States.
And Columbia? Would they welcome Larry Summers or Donald Rumsfeld? I wonder. But a man who was likely involved in the 1979 Iranian Hostage crisis, and who was therefore directly implicated in fueling the growth of murderous Islamic fanaticism that has cost the world so dearly these last few decades, the man who has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel and whose government is directly supporting the murder of American servicemen in Iraq–the man representing those possibly “offensive” ideas is just fine.
It would be interesting to know where Columbia would draw the line. In a breathtaking interview on Fox News, Columbia Dean John Coatsworth cheerfully affirmed that, were Adolf Hitler in New York and willing to engage in “discussion” and “debate,” Columbia “would certainly invite him.” Who would doubt it?
The spectacle of these left-wing academics repudiating men like Larry Summers and Donald Rumsfeld even as they abase themselves scrambling to find excuses for welcoming a fanatic like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the halls of a great American University is disgusting. I think again of Bagehot’s observation that “History is strewn with the wrecks of nations which have gained a little progressiveness at the cost of a great deal of hard manliness, and have thus prepared themselves for destruction as soon as the movements of the world gave a chance for it.” Are we really willing to let ourselves–our ideals, our way of life–be carelessly traduced by a rancid leftism so enfeebled that it can no longer distinguish between free speech and suicide? We are even now in the process of answer that question. How we answer it will determine a lot more than the issue of who gets to speak on American college campuses.