Beyond Free Speech: Ahmadinejad at Columbia (on Video)

ahmadinejad2.jpgThere was a lot of hand-wring­ing lead­ing up to Mah­moud Ahmadine­jad’s appear­ance at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty on Mon­day. But, as it turns out, free­dom of speech seem­ing­ly worked as it was intend­ed. Ahmadine­jad entered the mar­ket­place of ideas and quick­ly came out the wrong side of the exchange. (You can watch the full video of his appear­ance here or read the tran­script here.) The decid­ing fac­tor was­n’t so much the unbe­com­ing intro­duc­tion offered by Lee Bollinger, Columbi­a’s pres­i­dent. It was more just a mat­ter of giv­ing Ahmadine­jad enough rope to hang him­self (i.e., let­ting him doubt the exis­tence of the Holo­caust and also gays in Iran) and then sit­ting back and watch­ing it hap­pen.

Of course, the “mar­ket­place of ideas” metaphor only goes so far when you’re deal­ing with inter­na­tion­al pol­i­tics. Ahmadine­jad’s speech was­n’t about win­ning a com­pe­ti­tion at Colum­bia. It was most­ly about play­ing to an audi­ence at home, one for whom his rhetor­i­cal strate­gies score points. But then there are the unin­tend­ed con­se­quences to con­sid­er. Far bet­ter than a dis­cred­it­ed Bush admin­is­tra­tion ever could, Ahmadine­jad real­is­ti­cal­ly soft­ened up the Amer­i­can pub­lic to any mil­i­tary plans that the US gov­ern­ment has on the table. At the very least, this has to qual­i­fy for a Dar­win Award. I’ll save fur­ther analy­sis for the pun­dits and talk­ing heads since I know that pol­i­tics and polit­i­cal opin­ions only go so far on this blog.

Relat­ed Note:

Last week, KQED’s Forum here in San Fran­cis­co had a good con­ver­sa­tion about free speech in the uni­ver­si­ty. It touched on Ahmadine­jad’s appear­ance at Colum­bia, but also Don Rums­feld’s invi­ta­tion to Stan­ford’s Hoover’s Insti­tu­tion and Lar­ry Sum­mers can­celed invi­ta­tion to speak before the UC Board of Regents. Lis­ten here: iTunesFeedMp3Web site.


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