Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be speaking today at Columbia University in the City of New York — and as a graduate of Columbia — I applaud putting into action the mandate and creed that was embedded and steeped into me from that fine Ivy League university: The Moral Obligation to Listen.

There is no greater outrage in a free society that pretends to plead democratic ideals than to repress protest and scuttle — via political pressure and police action — the free expression of ideas from world leaders even if we disagree with what is being argued.

Columbia University is doing the right thing by letting a leader of an important nation speak on their campus no matter how much we may not like what he claims.

Allowing Ahmadinejad access to a public forum does not mean the forum supports what is being said. The forum merely allows for the open expression — and the direct examination of — ideas that may be pleasing or dangerous and that is the role and the job of a university. There is great value in knowing where, why and how your enemies stand against you.

There is an important, if unpopular, expression of democracy in burning an American flag as well as in listening to foreign leaders who do not hide their hate for you.

Listening does not mean agreeing.

I have always been an advocate for hearing out the insane and crazy when they are in positions of world power and national influence because it allows us to listen with our own ears and comprehend with our own eyes the spite and spittle that erupts from their throats and fingers.

I prefer to know the intent and purpose of those who claim to be my sworn enemy rather than guessing their game and making up convenient lies against political enemies that will later take us to war. The line between madman and liar is drawn by those on each side of the chasm of human expression and it is during that act of carving when nations begin to budge on boundaries and press unwanted participation in nation building — and the unfortunate result is always much more bloody and real than just listening.

28 Comments

  1. Shutting it down shuts up people. Then we’re Iran. It’s hard to hear bad things about your country even if they’re wrong and even when they’re right but that’s what we’re surely about.

  2. Let all the haters speak. Hitler was honest in writing and he’d lie to your face like Chamberlain so more info is much preferred to less. More talking means more chances to catch the lie.

  3. Ahmadinejad speaks. He says in Iran they do not politicize introductions to guest speakers and they allow students to listen and make up their own minds.
    He made an excellent point. Bollinger did go off on the guy.
    Ahmadinejad’s coming across reasonable and personable and is getting applause and I guess that’s the danger when you make your guest an underdog.

  4. Hooey. He’s spoken loudly and clearly over and over. We do not need to give this insane madman a platform. Doing so is repulsive in the extreme.
    this is the man who is quoted as saying he’d like to wipe Israel off the face of the map. This is the man who hangs gays,woman, children and dogs for minor offences;in fact just for existing. The man who insists on insisting that the holocaust is a myth. This is the man we are currently fighting in Iraq and who is supplying the terrorist organizations of Hamas and Hezbollah with weapons and men in Lebanon and elsewhere. This man and his country have been killing our soldiers for decades.
    No, in fact telling him to p*ss off would have been brilliant. He speaks enough on his state controlled TV stations. You do know, he is the not an advocate of freedom of speech, he disagree’s with it in practical application.
    “The start of the event received thunderous applause: The sound of freedom ringing.”
    No it’s the sound of lemmings applauding a mad man.
    [Comment edited by David W. Boles for content.]

  5. You basically summed up what Bollinger said in his introduction and it didn’t work very well because Ahmadinejad was able to spin it all back on Bollinger in rightfully arguing he had been unfairly disparaged in an unwelcoming welcome speech.
    So there’s no doubt Ahmadinejad is not stupid — that’s new information. He doesn’t appear to be mad or insane in this context. That’s new information. In fact, he appears to be quite keen. And cunning. And he is able to express himself in the midst of a hostile house.
    We have different ideas of freedom, Jenn, and that’s the beauty of our process in contrast with the non-democrat world.
    Oh, and please don’t curse on this blog.

  6. UPDATE:
    Now they’re telling Ahmadinejad he has one minute left to speak — after the event started late and Bollinger went on and on and on and on insulting him… cutting off Ahmadinejad speaks poorly to the event planning because it looks like censorship when he’s answering the insults flung at him in the introduction.

  7. Ahmadinejad is finished speaking. He actually did well in that he didn’t yell or shake his fist or go crazy.
    He was gracious. He answered the hard questions as best he could without admitting anything.
    He argued that the label “terrorist” only depends on your experience and your point-of-view in the world.
    He made interesting points by conflating Palestine with the Holocaust.
    He wondered why the USA is allowed to have “fifth generation nukes” while Iran is not allowed to have any.
    He also accepted the invitation from Bollinger to bring Columbia professors and students to visit Iranian universities.
    I learned there are 400 universities in Iran. That was news.
    Now I understand why there was such an outrage over this speech: There was grave danger in the reality that Ahmadinejad would not come across as the madmen our political leaders and mainstream media have led us to believe he is — and I’m sure that makes it much harder to plan a bombing attack on a sovereign nation with a president who appears thoughtful, intellectual and wondering and who says — more openly than many of our fundamentalist leaders — that “science is a divine gift from God.”

  8. Well said, Faith!
    We’re still here. We can now come to our own determination about the man and his methods on our own without intimidation from the media or those vested in the military industrial complex shilling terrorism everyday on the evening news.
    I agree there’s no harm in listening. We might be misled or fooled — but at least the decision to judge or not is left in our hands.

  9. UPDATE:
    The news channels are already demonizing Ahmadinejad’s speech — and I’m sure the evening newscasts will follow.
    If I hadn’t heard the speech with my own ears and eyes I would think he was a raving lunatic based on the reporting. He was actually quite calm and sane.

  10. Hi David,
    I do agree providing a platform to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to talk was commendable, and we should have a moral obligation for listening too –
    The only thing is I am a little skeptical about the sincerety and honesty in any political leader’s speech…sometimes it seems too good to be true.

  11. You’re right about the sincerity aspect, Katha, but I can’t think of any politician campaigning for support who really has any sort of real sincerity or kismet when it comes to truth-telling. I think that veneer is part of the shining process.