Monday, September 24, 2007


In what was surely a conspiracy, Ahmadinejad decided to speak (and thus be protested) exactly when my weekly class meets. So I missed the nonsense going on uptown. But from coverage of it, it looks like there's some confusion over what exactly 'free speech' entails.

1) Ahmadinejad's 'right to speak': If I wanted to give a speech to all of Columbia University about, say, my current quest for a pair of black patent leather pointy flats (any suggestions?), I would have a 'right' to stand on the campus there and speak, but would not have the right to the attention of the whole campus, or to endless security and disruption of campus activity, or to be taken seriously. Nor is it my right to be invited to speak, anywhere. As with banal speech, evil speech may be permitted but need not be given a platform. We need to remember that a choice was made to invite a speaker. Does every last individual have a right to a few minutes of Ahmadinejad's time? It's pointless to remind naysayers of the leader's 'right to an opinion' or 'right' to express his views, as though either of these gives him the privilege of speaking at Columbia or of being given even an ounce of respect. The question should be, was it a good idea to invite Ahmadinejad to Columbia?

2) More than anything, Columbia is trying to get attention, much-needed now that it has lost Labyrinth Books to its rival Princeton, not to mention lost relative status to its neighbor a few express stops south.

3) Making any overtures to the Palestinians gives a person enough left-wing credibility that he will have a 'progressive' following even if he ignores the rights of women and the existence of gays. This in some way relates to why 'pro-Israel' and 'right-wing' are now used interchangeably. Position on Israel trumps all. (Though for the record, unlike Dave, I'm no fan of civilians with guns). So a pro-Israel social and economic left-winger is, in fact, a conservative. Socialist Zionism is, by this definition, neoconservatism. Someone in favor of the continued existence of the Jewish state but against the Iraq war and President Bush generally? A far-right racist extremist.

4) From the NYT comments:

If we are a country of free speech he should be allowed to speak. But wre are not a country of free speech. Anyone that challenges Zionist control of are government and media is made silent. We have simply become the police force for Jewish concerns.

5) It's really not worth the bother. We're pretty much screwed.

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