Photo: Reuters
Let Ahmadinajad speak out
Photo: Reuters

Columbia was right

Ahmadinejad’s university visit appropriate; freedom of speech at stake

“What chutzpah, what hypocrisy!” said everyone: Politicians in Jerusalem and Washington, American-Jewish leaders, students at Columbia University – how dare a distinguished university invite Iranian President Ahmadinejad to deliver a lecture? He must be silenced!


The calls to curb speech have become familiar and tired. Politicians are allowed to say this, and in any case it would be naïve to expect them to display openness to other views or the expression of views that contradict popular sentiment. Yet it’s irritating to hear the representatives of two leading social groups join this demagogic campaign: Academicians and journalists.


First of all, academicians: They should be the first ones to recognize the fact that universities are the only place that still maintains genuine commitment to the freedom of speech, and are at times an island of openness amid the wave of calls to curb speech – and it doesn’t matter whether the calls are directed at radical views on the Right or Left.


Therefore, it was unfortunate to hear serious and distinguished professors speaking out against the Columbia University president’s decision.”


The enthusiasm of editors and newscasters in the broadcast media and press who spoke out against Columbia University should also raise concerns. Journalists should be at the forefront of the struggle for the freedom of speech. It is good that they directed tough questions at Columbia University, but they should also direct such questions at those objecting to the Ahmadinejad visit. It would be appropriate for journalists to leave the populist statements for politicians.


Hitler should have also been invited

Notably, freedom of speech is not meant to protect common and agreed-upon views. The objective of the freedom of speech is mostly to allow the voicing of different and annoying opinions. This is one of the most important rights given to a minority in a democratic regime, and this is the essence of democracy: Granting rights to minorities.


When is it proper to limit the freedom of speech? When there is substantive danger that the words will encourage listeners to engage in violent or racist acts. Does anyone believe that Ahmadinejad’s American audience was convinced that their country is the “kingdom of evil” and that Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth?


Therefore, the Columbia University dean was right to say that had it been possible, he would have invited Hitler as well. It would have been appropriate, in the 1930s, to allow the Nazi leader to express his disgusting views within an academic framework, lecture on his doctrine, and confront the tough questions. This would have allowed the listeners to better understand him and assess the seriousness of his intentions regarding the Jews (as you may recall, many doubted that he intended to realize his fiendish plans.)


Therefore, Columbia University was right to invite the Iranian president to appear at its campus, just like all the official bodies in the United States and other countries are right to refrain from inviting him. This is the difference between the academic world and a state. New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressed it nicely when he said that the university has the right to invite Ahmadinejad, but he will not be attending.


It was important that many people went out to protest against Ahmadinejad in New York, and it was important to see people not letting him evade all the tough questions at Columbia University. Yet it was no less important to let him speak.


The writer is the secretary-general of the Israel Press Council


פרסום ראשון: 09.25.07, 22:25
 new comment
This will delete your current comment