Muffti and his fellow posters don’t do this so often, but this is intended as a bit of a question. Muffti’s been thinking about the ethics of inviting Ahmadinejad: on the one hand, the intellectual function and value of it is fairly obvious: Universities have, as part (but not nearly all) of their proper function, to throw a light on interesting and controversial issues in order to find, as best they can, truth by the method they hold most dear: reason. To that end, its useful to invite those you disagree with and Ahmadinejad is clearly someone most around here disagree with. And what better way to demonstrate academia’s commitment to the value of free speech then letting such a person speak.
On the other hand there is a political-moral dimension. Don’t give people like Ahmadinejad a podium which legitimates them. Don’t act as though holocaust denying, terrorist funding, misogynistic homophobic people have positions that we feel it is legitimate to debate. Furthermore, Universities have to be and should be somewhat selective about who they invite – Columbia isn’t rushing to invite crazy homeless people in New York who mutter about being abducted by aliens simply so they can expose their views to academic scrutiny, are they?
All this is familiar; but what Muffti finds himself thinking is that there is a bit of gestalt situation here: when he thinks about what universities should be doing, he basically thinks that Columbia provided a great service to their students and showed a lot of courage in doing so. When he thinks about the political dimension, they seem foolish and insensitive to the realities of the world. The real problem is that universities aren’t purely academic instututions nor political ones: they are a mix of the two and what they do has reprecussions on both worlds.
Given, however, that you are going to invite such a fellow and give him an audience, Muffti thinks that Columbia showed a great deal of integrity handling things the way they did. Bollinger did a wonderful (albeit slightly rude, which mildly offends his Canadian sensibilities even in this situation) job of setting the tone and Ahmadinejad did his political job of avoiding all the key issues he brought up. Ahmadinejad had a chance to represent himself and he looked like an ass. And as such, Muffti can’t help but feel, somewhat retroactively, that Columbia made the right decision. And learned that there are no homosexuals in Iran (since they are all dead or scared straight?)
What do you think?