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?

About the author

grandmuffti

30 Comments

  • For both the uninformed, average Joe and his better-informed neighbor, this guy makes one impression only: he is a crackpot. While that makes him look ridiculous as a leader and a man, it also reinforces the idea that there are no reasonable people to deal with in that part of the world, and unfortunately this breeds apathy around the globe.

    Allowing him the opportunity to make an ass of himself doesn’t further any kind of discussion or resolution. It makes the situation seem even more hopeless, like more of the same, and ultimately doesn’t bring us any closer to a solution. That is what is most detrimental, in my mind.

  • Free speech is a lovely concept, but why would anyone permit a hateful enemy to have a platform? Is it useful to hear his propaganda? I now know that “there aren’t enough alternative viewpoints in Holocaust research” and that the “Palestinians have been punished because of the Holocaust.” In the meantime, he didn’t answer whether he means to destroy Israel or not. Great platform for propaganda and that’s about it.

  • Free speech for this monster who would kill someone in his own country for daring to do the same. The hypocrisy is mind blowing. This is a really low point for the US.

  • …..uhhhhhhhhhh – it’s not exactly like this guy lacks any other forums for expression of his views, ya know?

    He has his own (nationalized!) media outlets, and his pronouncements are widely reported.

    AND has violently suppressed the speech of those who oppose him.

    So there’s an enormous amount of ideological-myopia-feeding-self-righteousness in any assertion that Columbia is somehow doing making a brave stand for diversity of opinion by hosting this guy.

    The truly brave thing would be to host the voices he’s been shutting up. And the people he’s been keeping down.

    But:
    (a) that’s not ideologically palatable – we all just *know* it’s Bush’s fault, and don’t want Arabs-oppressed-by-their-own to disturb our moral certainty and self-righteousness.

    And
    (b) it may actually involve *real* risk – that is, it may actually require *real* bravery, intellectual and otherwise.

    Nope, nope, nope – no “integrity” here Muffaleh.

  • These are some really interesting points…can’t say Muffti agrees with all of them, but…

    1) Giyoret, Muffti hadn’t thought of it that way at all – from the perspective of how people would typify middle easterners on the basis of Iran’s president.

    2) Pichu, Muffti has to disagree. He’s not really so clear on the sharpness of the line between propoganda and explaining a view point, but he is pretty sure that by western standards his visit and answer period was a real low point. He actually claimed that no one was gay in Iran (granted, that may have been a joke – bu all the worse for him if it was since itw asn’t funny).

    3) Zulubaby, Muffti isn’t sure why that is hypocisy on US behalf – though he can see why it is on Ahmidenajad’s.

    4) B-D, good to see you weigh in. Muffti is, as often the case, in half agreement with you but only half. He agrees that it would take real courage to bring in the voices he’s been shutting up. Unfortunately they are mostly in Iranian prisons. Muffti thought that Bollinger actually did a quite nice job of speaking for those they can’t invite to speak. But maybe you had someone else in mind? He’s not sure how you managed to work Bush in but…

    Muffti agrees that he is a prime offender against basic rights, including free speech. But he’s not sure why that means that Columbia ins’t being brave and daring by inviting the monster to speak. It takes a great deal of couarge, in muffti’s eyes, to allow your enemy an affordance that you really don’t owe him at all and would probably be pragmatically better off if you didn’t afford him it.

    Diversity of opinion, like it or not, isn’t there to benefit ahmidenajad (sp). at least in theory, if not practice, it’s to benefit us and give us a chance to interrogate and examine the views of others. And our benefit, in this case, doesn’t really depend on his prior activities no matter how vile we think they are.

    To our beneift, Muffti thinks, the lie was given to anyone in these parts who thought that there was actually something good and decent behind the otherwise nefarious activities of the Iranian regime and its head. And that seems like a useful intellectual task to provide – at elast in Muffti’s eyes.

    But please say more – who are the people you have in mind and what is the *real* risk associated with it?

  • “Zulubaby, Muffti isn’t sure why that is hypocisy on US behalf – though he can see why it is on Ahmidenajad’s.”

    Really fast … I was talking about Ahmadinejad’s hypocrisy. Sorry if I wasn’t clear.

  • Am I the only one mildly disturbed by the amount of applause Ahmadinejad received, particularly when commenting on issues surrounding Israel/Palestine? Reading many of the comments of attendees, there was a smattering of comments such as “he had some good points,” etc…In a way, that was the real danger here, legitimizing the ideas of a murderous/racist/homophobic/mysogynst. I am sure that Columbia would never have invited the Grand Wizard of the KKK or a speaker from Kahane Chai or some other likeminded organization. So yes, this does lend legitimacy to someone who should be ostracized and largely ignored otherwise. Further, what kind of a message does this send to the nascent democracy movement in Iran that should be receiving all of the support we can possibly give?

  • I am sure that Columbia would never have invited the Grand Wizard of the KKK or a speaker from Kahane Chai or some other likeminded organization.

    How about the leader of the Minutemen? Before all this Ahmadinejad brouhaha, Gilchrist’s possible return to Columbia was the talk of the town. Now everybody seems to have forgotten about that.

    The thing is, even though I strongly disagree with his views, I completely support Gilchrist’s appearance(s) on campus. I think it’s disgusting that the students who attacked him were let off without any real punishments, for example.

    Yet I’m still uncomfortable with Ahmadinejad’s appearance, and I’m trying to put my finger on why.

    Part of it is probably because Ahmadinejad’s offensive views are directed against things that matter personally to me (Israel, the Holocaust, freedom, etc.) and could theoretically affect my life, while Gilchrist’s offensive views are more abstractly offensive from my perspective. That’s the selfish part.

    But I think another difference is intellectual (dis)honesty. I view Gilchrist as mostly honest, even if I think he’s misguided and unfair. We agree on the basic facts of the immigration problem. He simply advocates a solution with which I disagree.

    Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, not only doesn’t accept the same set of facts I accept–he is willing to change the facts (or ignore them) to suit his agenda. He uses the language of academic, critical inquiry to support his positions in the same way that the “intelligent design” crew uses science.

    So back to the question: did Columbia do the right thing? Despite my discomfort, I think they did. Could it have been done better? Yes. I think Bollinger could have been a little less insulting and a little more tenacious in pursuing a direct yes/no answer to the Israel question instead of letting Ahmadinejad get away with changing the subject.

    But overall, I believe that more speech is better than less speech. And I think that the mere fact that we’re having this conversation means that Columbia accomplished its goal in inviting the guy.

  • Muffti, how was he interrogated? He got to say his piece and answered what he wanted in the way he wanted. One of the questions becomes, Did anybody learn anything? Another is, If his message is toned down and modified to influence an American audience because he is given the platform, then is the audience receiving propaganda (self-serving in this instance) or real information? It’s not like this guy is lacking for access to the media.

  • First, you can’t blame columbia for people not learning anything – and as bollinger predicted and rightly pointed out, seeing someone not have the integriy and courage to answer pointed questions makes you learn something about him and the position he is coming from.

    Second, ther eis the potential to learn something when your access ot the person is direct and, so to speak, from the horse’s mouth. Muffti isn’t sure about you but he doesn’t often see Ahme…jad give full length speeches or answer questions. Muffti certainly hasn’t seen him be asked direct questions that weren’t from friendly audiences or iranian government employees.

    Third, and maybe this is a bit repetitive, but, information isn’t just what he says, but also what he doesnt’ say, what quesions he doesn’t answer and how he chooses to say what he says. of coruse he’s apolitician and you don’t learn anythign merely from what he says (toher than that there are no homosexuals in iran!) – but by that token you shouldn’t invite any politicians.

    Fourth, and last, do yu really think that audience take home message was ‘aw, teh media was wrong about this guy. He’s pretty reasonable and clever and just trying to make things right for his people?’ really? If anyhitng, Muffti thought that his deliberate skirting of the hard questions revealed that most of the characterizations of him in western media and political discourse are basically true.

  • Re: Gilchrist (who any reasonable person should certainly loathe), there is another distinction to be had. He was invited by an individual university group on campus, where as Ahmadinejad received his invitation directly from the unversity. Now you can certainly say that there is no difference in the sense that the unversity, since it funds student activities has a right to kabosh certain speakers. However, from a perception standpoint there is a difference between the type of platform being provided.

  • No matter how loathe-worthy Gilchrist is (and certainly, without doubt he is), there is a difference between his appearance and Ahmadinejad. Gilchrist was invited to Columbia by an individual, student organization, while A. was invited by the university itself. In one sense there is no difference since the University funds student activities. As such, it would have certainly been within its rights to put the kabosh on Gilchrist’s appearance. But in a larger sense, perception-wise, the A. visit had the direct approval and invitation of the University at large.

  • “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.”

    Bollinger’s introduction was very problematic for me. It leaves it possible to say that Ahmadinejad looked like an ass because Bollinger framed the debate. I would rather Bollinger to have allowed him to look like an ass on his own merits.

  • I don’t know, Muffti, NPR didn’t report any of what you’re saying. They repeated the two questions Pichu mentions. The report was, approximately, “Ahme…jad gave a talk at Columbia University today. He received a harsh introduction from the university’s president. In response to questions he said that the Holocaust needs to be explored from different angles and that the Palestinians should not be made to suffer because of the Holocaust.”

    Our media doesn’t have time for thorough discourse or investigation. The reporting has to focus on key elements of any story and usually ends up empahsizing the most headline-grabbing elements.

    I’m less concerned about that, however, than I am in giving voice to hate-mongering dictators. Why do they deserve the same voice as others? Does free speech mean that all ideas are equal and deserve the same hearing? I don’t think so.

    On that note, the whole notion of free speech also needs to be addressed. Take for example a person who takes advantage of free speech to throw out malicious lies about people. Why does he deserve the right to do that? Why should he have the luxury of receiving an equal platform to people who speak the truth, who are measured and who are responsible? In your world, the liar with the false claims deserves an equal voice and somehow, magically, the audience will know enough or be smart enough to figure out the truth. I doubt that is how things work.

  • Propagandists take advantage of free speech in the same way undemocratic movements take advantage of democracy to advance their anti-democratic agenda. The first mission of any democracy should be to protect itself from anti-democracy movements and the first mission of free speech should be to ensure that others don’t use it to stifle free speech. People in Iran are not free to speak or do as they like.

  • Those are all very complicated, deep questions TM. Muffti thinks that clearly it is not true that all ideas and idea disseminators are created or grow up to be equal. And of course universities don’t practice free speech as a come-all affair – they can’t, obviously coz there is too much speach and too little time to do it all in. Astronomy departments don’t tend to invite flat-earth society members to their colloquia typically 🙂

    So of coruse Muffti doesn’t think that the field is wide open and that everyone deserves equal precious time. In fact, as we all know, free speech is a right that you have a citizen. universities don’t owe you ANY right to speak whatsoever. They can pick and choose whateve they think best. So Muffti doesn’t think taht the freedom of speech gives anyone the right to show up and have an audience at an institution to speak of (unlike, say, that park in London where free speech is absolute and unlimited. Or so muffti is told).

    Having said that, let’s remember what is going on. The school that invited him is the School of International and Public Affairs. Clearly their educational goals invovle, well public affairs. and Ahmadinejad is clearly a guy invovled in international public affairs. as such, he’s not just any liar or any hate monger. As such, Muffti thinks there is at elast a case to be made for his being an interesting speaker and opportunity for students.

    As to your last point, let’s remember again who did the inviting. Columbia is one of hte top universities in one of the top countries for universities in the entire world. They are the ones who invited him and it is for the service of their students. If students at one of the world’s top institutions aren’t the audience that can ‘magically’ know enough to give a good debate (which academia is downright to committed to thinking is a good method of getting to truth) then we should really just say ‘fuck it’ and pack up this experiment that Plato started with his academia because it’s a waste of time. We shoudl also thereby give up on free speech all togther because if the most qualified people in the world aren’t capable of using free speech for the purposes it was meant (ascertaining truth via expression of ideas) then surely its just a misguided ideal. Maybe that’s the right solution? But Muffti still holds out some hope that that is not hte case.

    Of course, Muffti si sensitive to the fact (and put so in his post) that universities are (regretably to his mind) not pure academia. There is a political dimension to things as well – that’s why every majour news channel was there televising the entire event. He clearly wasn’t just a speaker brought in to talk to some students about his misguided ideals to good goverment and international relations. And that’s why Muffti thinks its such an itneresting question about whether ro not columbia did the right or wrong thing.

    Make sense?

  • Framing the debate in terms of free speech is, in itself fallacious. Of all people, Bolinger–a constitutional scholar–should be aware of this. Specifically, the canard of free speech refers specifically to the Congress not making any inhabitions upon free speech. Columbia itself as a private institution reserves the right to allow or disallow anyone it wants from appearing on its campus. Now, if Columbia took the position that it wasn’t in the business of making value judgements on perspectives, and as such would never disallow anyone from speaking, at least that would be consistent. Yet, I hardly think that would be the case.

  • It’s kind of simple. Let the devil come in and exercise our country’s right of free speech. And let the host exercise his… kind of like the unwritten rules of hockey fights.

    Not the same unwritten rules that apply if, for instance, Bollinger went to speak at a faux-Holocaust conference in Tehran. But it’s here, and that’s how things should be.

    How much more complicated does it have to get than that?

  • The reason inviting Achmedinejad to Columbia is because it was done by would-be terrorist appeasers who wanted to “subvert the dominant paradigm” by making it OK to talk to a dangerous lunatic who 1) advocates genocide and politicide, 2) murders homosexuals and other “sexual miscreants” as defined by their “law”, 2) finances terrorism all over the world, 4) is trying to get an A-bomb and is lying through his teeth about it, 5) is trying to start Armageddon to usher in the reign of their “Mahdi”, etc., etc., etc. This has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with showcasing “diversity of opinion”; the Grand Dragon of the KKK or a representative from Gush Emmunim are not about to grace Columbia’s podium in the name of “diversity”. This was all about trying to make Achmenidejad and, by extention, Iran and its regime, a “partner for dialog” so that it will be impossible to do what needs to be done: bomb Iran’s nuke program out of existence.

    Bollinger had to say what he said for CYA purposes only.

    How come there is no “Remember Me?” box to click anymore? It’s a drag having to log in every time.

  • Columbia certainly got it right. I think the platform did anything but legitimise his view. If anything i think they came off as ridiculous. It’s easy to talk rubbish to an audiesnce that isn’t ctitical but when that shit is put under a spot light, it can be seen for what it is.

  • Ephraim, muffti isn’t sure what ‘CYA’ stands for. Nonetheless, he thinks you are being a might critical and over interprative of poor Columbia. Muffti has been in academia long enought o notice some trends in speaker inviting: 1) you have to be a bit opportunisitic about it and clearly this was a case of opportunism. COlumbia hasn’t been sitting aorund for years begging him to come, the opportunity presented itself since he was in NYC anyways. 2) You have to be a bit selective based on interest: like it or not there is a great deal of itnerest in Iran and the goings on there. People are interested in what he has to say. People, by the same token, are not interested in what the grand dragon has to say. Remember, as was already pointed out, tat they also invited people who politics left wing academia tends to abhor – Gilchrist. Muffti sees no sign that Columbia targets terrorists as their normal speaker rotation. If a gush emmunim guy held enough peole’s interests and were visiting new york, Muffti wouldn’t be suprised if Columbia did ask him to speak 3) The suggestion is ridiculous – Academics don’t imagine, except in their wildest dreams, tat there actions affects policy at all, or that there invited speakers consitutes a political act of negotiation. 4) Your comments about Bollinger, whatever CYA stands for, are awfully cynical.

    5) as for ‘remember me’, Muffti will never forget you. Fear not 🙂

  • If they want to know what Ahmedinejad thinks, just read the papers or his propaganda websites. What he thinks is everywhere. There’s no need to invite him anywhere.

    Bollinger had to take a tough stand to give himself cover by allowing somebody to debase Columbia by inviting a terrorist to speak. If he hadn’t taken that line he would have been even more of a laugingstock than he is already.

  • sorry, I cant always find the right code to embed these things. this is from the Angry Arab News Service:

    http://angryarab.blogspot.com/2007/09/neither-bollinger-nor-ahmadinajad.html

    “As for Ahmadinajad: I don’t understand why students (presumably leftists? or pro-Palestinian activists?) were applauding him. For what? Ahmadinajad is not a leftist and he does not even deserve the support of advocates for Palestine. If those who were applauding were just pleased to hear praise for the Palestinians and criticisms of Israel–rare indeed in the US–they should know that fascists and Nazis are often critical of Israel–but from their own anti-Semitic perspective. There is nothing worthy of leftist support in Ahmadinajad: the economic policies of his administration have squeezed the poor further, and his economic policies are not popular with the Iranian masses. More importantly, those who may sympathize with Ahmadinajad should note that his stupid and ignorant statements on the holocaust have hurt the Palestinian cause and not helped it. Ahmadinajad is the greatest gift to Zionist propaganda since Ahmad Shuqayri in the 1960s.”

  • Bollinger did have to take a tough stand; but Muffti doens’t think that means that he did the wrong thing or should be lambasted for it – that depends on what he would have done had he not had to! In any case, the hope is that an academic call and response forum is different than snippets of his speeches in american press or his propaganda websites. And Muffti think Bollinger got it right:

    ” I close with this comment frankly and in all candor, Mr. President. I doubt that you will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions. But your avoiding them will in itself be meaningful to us. I do expect you ”

    Well founded doubt indeed. And Muffti agrees with him – you do learn something from avoidance. Though sometimes not as much as you would like.

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