Monday, September 24, 2007

The Speakers' Corner At Columbia U:

Where fanaticism, Holocaust Denial, Homophobia, Misogyny and Prescribed Genocide can get an airing, and a hearing:

Pajamas Media on Columbia University invitation to Ahmadinejad to speak to their students:

Columbia University has invited Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - the Iranian president who believes in the Mahdi, but not in the Holocaust - to speak at their World Leaders Forum. Pajamas Media has obtained a copy of the letter sent by Columbia dean Mary McGee to students concerning the event. “Given the heightened level of security expected on campus on Monday … we want to remind students to make sure to have their Columbia IDs on hand.”

I must say I reluctantly almost admire Columbia U's audacity in making possible this event. Compare this to the pusillanimous Concordia University, Montreal, first here, 2002 and then here, 2004.

Two former Israeli prime ministers, respectable, democratic leaders, both of whom signed agreements with Palestinians, and tried to push for comprehensive peace with all Arab states, were prevented from speaking at Concordia university, under one pretext or another.

And here is Columbia U, taking the bull by its two horns, one being academic freedom, the other - freedom of speech, by providing a stage for a bellicose, superstitious, antisemitic, misogynistic, homophobic, Holocaust denier, wannabe genocider and a megalomaniac of the first order.

You've got to admire such dedication to the absolute right of someone, not just to speak, but to be heard, and not only to be heard by anybody but to be heard by some of the finest minds in America, in the cradle of leadership. Whoo-ah!

Oliver Kamm, speaking of another matter pertaining to the thorny issue of freedom of speech, comes close to providing providing a rule of thumb for for evaluating the advisability of Columbia's choice to host Ahmadinejad:

"I am close to being an absolutist on free speech. I do not, however, consider that defending someone's right to utter pernicious sentiments obligates you to provide the vehicle by which he may do so. "

Would Columbia U would allow its students' magazines to publish the Danish cartoons, in the name of the same righteous absolutism?

Norman Geras expresses a similar position.

And here is a differing view:

"As leading campus free speech and first amendment scholar Robert O'Neil rightly notes: "If you suppress a viewpoint by disallowing or barring a controversial speaker, you make the speaker a martyr."

But note the disingenuous premise inserted into this debate. Ahmadinejad does not have an inalienable, automatic right to speak at an American University. In order to speak at such an august institute, he has to be INVITED! It's not a question of "disallowing" or "barring" Ahmadinejad from speaking. The question is: Why was he invited in the first place? Why confer upon him the mantle of respectability and prestige that inevitably accrue to someone who is formally INVITED to address students from an academic pulpit?

The most appropriate platform in a democratic society for the likes of Ahmadinejad should be an inverted soap box in Hyde Park's Speakers' Corner, a place which "existence is frequently upheld as a demonstration of the principle of free speech, as anyone can turn up unannounced and talk on almost any subject, though they are likely to be heckled by regulars."


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