Monday’s Daily News headline said it all: “The Evil Has Landed.” These four words spoke volumes of the controversy surrounding Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at Columbia University.
The newspaper, along with politicians, pundits, and columnists everywhere, criticized the prestigious university for inviting the Iranian leader.
Granted, Ahmadinejad has done some outrageous things, such as advocating the destruction of Israel, denying the Holocaust, and being the leader of a country known for its human rights abuses. However, his visit to Columbia was a positive one. The Iranian President’s trip to one of America’s greatest universities only reaffirms the inviolable right that is so cherished in our country – the very same right that would be denied in Ahmadinejad’s country: freedom of speech.
Allowing a leader to speak whose views are dusty and narrow-minded can only help to expose how ridiculous his beliefs truly are. What’s more, an open dialogue – especially one in which students are allowed to ask questions – can create productive political discourse.
Controversial speakers are necessary in an academic setting, whether it be Columbia University or St. John’s, to provide a wide variety of ideas, whether we agree with them or not.
Through his comments this past Monday, Ahmadinejad displayed his ignorance on many topics, especially when he tried to convince the audience that homosexuality does not exist in Iran.
At the same time, it was interesting to see the Middle Eastern perspective on global issues, such as the plight of Palestinians, which is often lost in Western media.
Columbia president Lee Bollinger, on the one hand, should be applauded for sticking to his guns and hosting the controversial figure. But, at the same time, his hostile comments towards Ahmadinejad at the beginning of the discussion were uncalled for and proved entirely counterproductive.
Bollinger, in his 10-minute opening remarks, called his guest a “petty and cruel dictator” and confidently asserted that Ahmadinejad would lack “the intellectual courage to answer these questions.” The comments added nothing to the debate, but simply served as cheap shots taken against the Iranian president before he even had the opportunity to speak.
To invite Ahmadinejad to explain himself, but then claim he would not even be able to explain himself, makes absolutely no sense.
Perhaps Bollinger’s hostility was caused by the pressure of the media. And, with headlines like “The Evil Has Landed,” that’s probably not very far from the truth.