Saturday, September 29, 2007

Noonan on the Ahmadinejad Appearance

I forgot to post this earlier today, but tomorrow is my "comics and fun" day so I wanted to post it tonight. I was really surprised by the vitriol spewed at anyone this past week who intimated that maybe the President of Iran should be allowed to speak at Columbia. It seemed to me like this was a great opportunity for a little-understood world leader to present himself, and explain his actions and philosophies. Especially since it seems to be common knowledge that at some time in the near - but unspecified - future, our two nations could be at war. What better way to begin to understand the enemy.

But most people seemed to feel that his views did not deserve even a cursory hearing. It was made worse when, during the introduction to the speech, the President of Columbia insulted and belittled Ahmadinejad. Are we really the champions of Free Speech, when we feel a need to pre-emptively protect ourselves from it? I thought Peggy Noonan really summed up my feelings in her article from Friday on this issue.

Is it necessary to say when one speaks of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that you disapprove of him, disagree with him, believe him a wicked fellow and are not amused that he means to have missiles aimed at us and our friends? If it is, I am happy to say it. Who, really, isn't?
But this has been our history: to let all speak and to fear no one. That's a good history to continue. The Council on Foreign Relations was right to invite him to speak last year--that is the council's job, to hear, listen and parse--and Columbia University was well within its rights to let him speak this year. Though, in what is now apparently Columbia tradition, the stage was once again stormed, but this time verbally, and by a university president whose aggression seemed sharpened by fear.

There were two revealing moments in Ahmadinejad's appearance. The first is that in his litany of complaint against the United States he seemed not to remember the taking and abuse of American diplomatic hostages in 1979. An odd thing to forget since he is said to have been part of that operation. The second was the moment when he seemed to assert that his nation does not have homosexuals. This won derisive laughter, and might have been a learning moment for him; dictators don't face derisive from crowds back home.
That is the thing about Free Speech. It allows great men to show their greatness. And it allows small men to show their paucity of wit and thought. By trying to silence a small man, we simply allow him to seem big to his followers and deny ourselves the chance to get to know just how dangerous he may be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

BowHunter: I am not so sure that is the way I see it. I do believe that our country is great becuase it allows people like Ackmademanademanamemanademanademanademanademandamdndeamda... etc... to have a forum. His visit had many implications on many levels. Some of his impact was felt here, but the real audience that he was playing to was arab. (although he should be more worried about the persians. He would most likely win a popularity contest among the middle east but loose one in Iran. Big difference.)