Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Senator Bollinger?

Ahmadinejad, at Columbia, Parries and Puzzles - Ahmadinejad is a nasty nut, fronting for a government of fanatical religious thugs, who occasionally makes a lucid point. Even the blind pig finds the truffle once in a while. The interesting story yesterday was not Ahmadinejad, but Lee Bollinger, Columbia's president. Not long ago Bollinger led a response by American academia to the boycott of Israel by British Universities. Why invite Ahmadinejad to speak? Once you invite him, why slap him in the face ("Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator") as part of the introduction?

First, why the invite? A stand for free speech? Maybe, although you can support free speech just by tolerating hateful speech, you don't need to promote it. Giving a crank like Ahmadinejad a prestigious forum tends to legitimize him. Bollinger pointed to the tradition of the Columbia World Leader's Forum as a place for all voices, and the crowd's right to hear, not Ahmadinejad's right to speak, as an essential element of academic freedom and a necessary basis for understanding and responding to opposing viewpoints. Was the invitation to Ahmadinejad a choice to promote academic freedom or to publicize President Bollinger? Was the nasty introduction all part of Bollinger's original plan, or did each draft Bollinger wrote get nastier and nastier as Bollinger was criticised heavily for extending the invitation? Bollinger's motives are probably the most interesting question in this story, but there is no easy way to answer that question. Once he invited Ahmadinejad to speak, someone needed to challenge him. The nasty remarks, when quoted out of context, almost seem over the line. Ahmmadinejad deserves them, and more, but tactically they generate sympathy for Ahmadinejad. In context they were part of a systematic, well-supported challenge by Bollinger. See the video for yourself.

On balance As Good As News says kudos, President Bollinger, although that invitation was a tough call. We reserve the right to change our mind if you run for office within the next two years - somebody has to fill that vacancy if Hillary wins. What a coup, defender of free speech and academic freedom, but tough on Iran - with front page headlines to show for it.

No comments: