Well, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad went and spoke at Columbia, and the world didn't end.
And, surprisingly, he didn't leave with an honorary degree. I guess he should have timed it for commencement.
Rather, he did pretty much what I expected: he tried to put a human face on his nation's brutal theocracy, polish the gilded cage a bit, polish the turd that is the government of Iran. And, to some, he did just that. Others, though, could see the Mr. Hyde lurking behind the Dr. Jekyll mask, which slipped a bit when he made the absurd assertion that "there are no gays in Iran." I think Cox & Forkum captured the moment perfectly:
Still, I'm a bit disappointed.
My opposition to Ahmaninejad's invitation to speak was based on two principles. The first was the choice of forums. Columbia University, in my opinion, has absolutely no standing whatsoever when it comes to making "freedom of speech" arguments. One need look no further than the treatment Jim Gilchrist of The Minuteman Project received when he spoke there. Columbia students rushed the stage and shouted him down, bullying him off the stage -- and Columbia didn't do a damned thing about this ugly incident of mob rule.
The second is based on the notion that "free speech" does NOT include the right to speak without being challenged. So many times I've seen criticism labeled as censorship, repeating the words of others denounced as oppression. Ahmadinejad's speech was designed to be just that: an address, a lecture, a one-sided method of communication. There was no "fairness doctrine" in place, no "fair and balanced" presentation, no "equal time" provision -- the thug was being allowed to give his lecture pretty much unchallenged.
Well, Columbia's president allayed some of my concerns, when he spoke to Ahmadinejad in ways the thug is probably not used to hearing -- at least, not without turning the speaker over to his Brute Squad.
It was a small step for Columbia to truly being a bastion of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas, but it was a step in the right direction. The real test will be to see if Bollinger's "calling a spade a spade" moment was a flash in the pan and an aberration, or the beginning of a real reform.
Because lord knows modern academia needs a lesson in what free speech really means.