Here is what kills me about his talk at Columbia today. I was a senior administrator who would have been in the eye of the storm (and have been) during an incident like this. I have been there.
And I start with the obligatory and fully sincere fact that few things about my country makes me prouder than the first amendment. You might laugh: But one of my proudest moments was explaining to a foreign visitor that this was a country so sure of itself, so confident that freedom made it stronger, that we were confident enough to even allow people to burn flags and know that the Republic would stay strong.
Having said that, free speech means that a speaker gets to say what he or she wants, within the well known constitutional "fire in the theater" limits. It does not mean that any given institution has to provide a forum for any speaker.
I might feel that universitities should have a "presumption that someone can speak" principle, but they should also remember that their platform is a valuable commodity and that, while letting someone speak does not mean the University supports the views, they have given the speaker a special gift that other less prestigious institutions cannot provide.
Now I think this gift should be given very freely, but not promiscuously. In fact, the standards for getting the gift and legitimacy of a Columbia platform should be minimal, perhaps only requiring that the person have given some small civil consideration in return.
What I am leading to is that Ahmadinejad, by refusing basic scrutiny of his nuclear program and by continuing to imply his willingness to engage in acts of annihilation, acts that could lead to an incident that would make Dresden and London look like target practice, has not given the world that consideration.
Not doing this means he has essentially said: "I will not give you even the most simple assurance that I will won't accidentally destroy you, much less purposefully do so.
So I would not have given him the platform.
And I haven't even touched on his Holocaust denial idiocy, which means that -- in return for the gift of the visibility and legitimacy of a Columbia logo on the platform, he wouldn't even provide the simple consideration of acknowledging the death of 100, much less than 6 million, Jews.
So, my threshhold was minimal when I had the call about some speakers , and some pretty creepy creeps spoke under my watch. 90% of the time the platform revealed then to be idiots. A few times they made sense.
President A. has not met that minimal standard.
The UN cannot have that standard, so that is his proper forum.
We are a free marketplace of ideas. Ideas joust for respect and attention and win or lose. But a Columbia forum essentially rigs the free market. It gives him valuable symbolic capital in which to frame his views, which doesn't just put him in the marketplace, it advantages him!
And without providing even the most crude and minimal consideration in return.
Monday, September 24, 2007
Ahmadinejad going to Columbia University : An insightful comment from a reader of this blog
Steve has posted the following response. His comments are so on the mark that I thought I would post them directly [not just as a response] to give them maximum exposure.