Intro

I intend to use this blog as a platform for my daily thoughts on a variety of topics. I welcome comments, objections, and questions.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Mahmoud I'm-a-nutjob in NYC

As I'm sure most of you know, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is speaking in several forums today in NYC. He is scheduled to speak before the UN as they debate another round of economic sanctions against Iran for its developing nuclear (shh...weapons...shh) program. That sort of nonsense is to be expected from the UN, which is well known for ingenious moves such as having Iran and Syria head the UN commission on human rights.

What I find incredibly appalling is that Columbia University invited Ahmadinejad to come speak on politics and international relations. He has been invited as a "respected" world leader who can teach much about foreign policy to Columbia students. Outrage has been rampant over this appearance, and I'd like to join the fray. The President of Columbia, Lee Bollinger, has said that he will not cancel the appearance in the name of free speech and academic freedom. In fact, he has said that given the chance, he would invite Adolf Hitler to speak at the university!

Bollinger speaks almost as if he is fulfilling his "duty" to free speech by inviting Ahmadinejad and promising to have invited Hitler. This represents a complete misunderstanding of what free speech really means. There is a profound difference between the right of free speech and the exercise of said right. Recognizing the right of free speech entails that the government not forbid private individuals from speaking their mind when other individuals voluntarily agree to hear what is being said. Notice, this is solely a political idea. The right of free speech does not entail the obligation to provide a platform and microphone to anyone who wants to speak his mind.

In other words, there are ethical standards upon which to exercise the right of free speech properly. When you agree to provide a platform for a man's ideas, you sanction those ideas in a sense. This sanction is not necessarily agreement, but rather, the statement that the person's ideas are at least worthy of debate. Now, imagine if you agreed to give a platform to a man who explicitly advocates your murder. No matter what the outcome of the speech, this implies that there is legitimate debate over whether you should be murdered or not. Who really benefits from this arrangement and who is harmed?

By allowing Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia University, they are giving this indirect sanction to ideas like holocaust denial, the genocide of Israel, the destruction of the United States, and the ascendancy of Islam to world power. That is, these ideas are worthy of being debated. Are they?! We are talking about a man who not only openly calls for our destruction, but who also has a hand in the killing of our soldiers in Iraq, and who is a leader in a government that is the #1 worldwide sponsor of terrorism. This evil is to be given an open forum?

This grants him a legitimacy that he most certainly does not deserve. The appalling nature of his ideas are now masked by a veneer of respectfulness and wisdom. His appearance anywhere in New York City is a mockery of morality and justice. Calling for the destruction of Israel and our country, he should absolutely be taken at his word and arrested the second he sets foot on American soil.

I emphatically condemn Columbia University for this travesty and I applaud the New Yorkers out protesting today. Hopefully, Ahmadinejad will be at the receiving end of justice soon enough.

3 comments:

Mark said...

Lee Bollinger was quite strong in his opening remarks, so it looked like a good show. I look forward to seeing a longer transcript.
I will say it again- If we could talk to the Soviets and the Chinese formally and imformally, with an enemy that actually had the capability to destroy us, there is no bloody reason why we must refuse all contact with the Iranians. That won't get us anywhere. And there is not a single person in the world who think that Columbia is sanctioning his speech, so let not your heart be troubled.
One of the few things less productive than advocating the total isolation of Iran is advocating the imprisonment of a sitting head of state whilst traveling to an international conference on what is essentially non-US soil. If we were to do that, we'd be no better than the Iranian students of 1979.

Brian said...

For one thing, I heard the opening remarks of the president of Columbia and he pretty much told Ahmadinejad that he was full of crap.

I couldn't disagree with your premise more. Give this guy enough rope to hang himself. I explained it more thoroughly in my blog.

http://mofyc.blogspot.com/2007/09/contrived-hysteria-about-ahmadinejads.html

Larisa Shewczyk said...

Steve! Food (thoughts) for thought.

“The right of free speech does not entail the obligation to provide a platform and microphone to anyone who wants to speak his mind.”

You choose to use the word obligation, which supports your cause. And I agree – no, it does not. But you avoid saying that it entails the option, the more appropriate word (based on definition and law), which it does.

You continue:

In other words, there are ethical standards upon which to exercise the right of free speech properly.

This statement is one of pure judgment (whether good or bad). And one must consider that “ethical standards” most often are nothing more than individual beliefs at root – though, dangerously, they also are often the product of collective thought.

The desire to censor speech, no matter how offensive, is a delicate topic, because one must consider those situations in which he or she would feel outrage at an idea being censored.

I believe that even if one is right to fear the implications of allowing any person or party to promote opinions – especially because this act has frequently resulted in dangerous outcomes, and the majority of the human population exercises poor judgment consistently (this is a personal assumption and in theory could discredit my argument) – you must above all value the right to act, to argue, and to have the option of sharing your thoughts and acting on your ideas, no matter how twisted (or brilliant) they are.

That said, I also would declare that if I were in the position of Bollinger, I too would desire to have Adolf Hitler speak at my institution (for the sake of argument). I can think of no better way to develop and support my thoughts on an issue than to hear what the individual who most opposes me has to say. This creates an informed, if not level, playing field – and, if rationality proves victorious in the larger picture, it would be the one who works hardest, understands most his/her cause and ultimately is right (again, a discrediting statement), that would lead their cause/belief to gain acceptance. This struggle is what accelerates greatness, rationality and discourse, as well as suffering and tragedy. C’est la vie.

So, I say: Let them give indirect sanctions – at least people are thinking for a change. That which invokes anger is more valuable than that which invokes praise, in my humble opinion. But I’m weird like that.

And as a final note:
“Recognizing the right of free speech entails that the government not forbid private individuals from speaking their mind when other individuals voluntarily agree to hear what is being said.”

This is a very unstable statement. Firstly, in the case at hand, individuals DO voluntarily agree to hear what is being said; no one is being held at gunpoint, forced to hear Ahmadinejad’s speech. And recognizing free speech does mean that one must be subjected to opinions that they do not agree with. It is viewing this as detrimental rather than beneficial that is dangerous.