Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Up for discussion

The main justification I've seen from reliable sources for why having Ahmadinejad speak at Columbia was a good idea is that an open discussion gives the world a chance to see dumb/evil ideas for what they are, and gives the audience a chance to show how horrible 'we all know' it is to deny the Holocaust or to wish Israel off the map. The thing is, many Americans think the Iranian leader is kinda-sorta right on both counts, and have interpreted him as a sort of exotic Walt-Mearsheimer with that silly but forgivable non-Western quirk of homophobia. His visit to Columbia was not a chance to prove him and his worldview wrong, but rather a chance to have a fair-to-both-sides debate about the self-determination of the Jewish nation and over whether genocide is really such a big deal.

Jacob Levy is right that shooting down Ahmadinejad before he even spoke made him look sympathetic. And he's right again when he notes, "One can refuse to invite." But he's missing something when he writes that "One can invite, and treat courteously, while relying on the general principle that such an invitation does not imply endorsement of the views expressed." There are different levels of endorsement. One extreme would be a pro-life group inviting the Pope to give a speech, i.e., preaching to the converted. The other would be a Campus Democrats group inviting a Republican speaker with whom they know ahead of time they will disagree on almost all the issues. But any invitation implies that there's a serious discussion to be had, and that there is a good-faith case to be made for both sides. On some level everything is up for discussion--Should 3-year-olds be allowed to marry? How about horses?--but in reality, organizations and individuals must set parameters for debate, with the understanding that a logical argument isn't an effective response to everything, and that responding logically to nonsense can at times imply that the nonsense is itself a reasonable position. Ultimately what made Ahmadinejad 'look good' was a combination of a) what Levy said, his unfriendly reception, b) the fact that he was invited at all, implying that Columbia does think his views deserve a platform, and c) the happy coincidence that Walt and Mearsheimer paved the way for many of Ahmadinejad's arguments. And thanks to W & M every protest from a pro-Israel Jew is interpreted as part of a vast cabal whose power needs to be checked. As if Jews are not, well, frightened, and justifiably so, by any of this.

Again, we're pretty much screwed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think Ahmadinejad's visit to Columbia was problematic for his opponents. Prof. Bollinger's introduction only gave Ahmadinejad sympathy. Regarding his "speech", I think the audience was OK with his antisemitic pronouncements but had a problem with his anti-gay comments and was turned off by his religious nonsense. I think the questions could have been better thought out. Since Ahmadinejad is for further study of the holocaust although for most there seems to be ample evidence, perhaps he would wish to investigate less well documented "historical events". To wit: what is the evidence the Mohammad did rise from the rock and ascend to heaven? I would think this should be investigated. If it is found not to be so perhaps Moslems will give up their religion and simply become unitarians.