Because Adolf Hitler couldn’t make it, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger went down one spot on the list of anti-Semitic world leaders and invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia’s World Leaders Forum today.
Ahmadinejad-who is best known for his adamant write-off of the Holocaust as “a myth,” his call for the annihilation of Israel and his nation’s poorly concealed nuclear ambitions-readily accepted the invitation, no doubt seeing it as an opportunity to take advantage of a liberty that he doesn’t even offer his own people: free speech. More specifically free hate speech.
Bollinger is seemingly trying to set an example in all of the wrong ways. He has said that he isn’t “afraid of words,” but is he afraid of Iran-generated missiles? He also insists that “[Columbia University is] in the business of finding facts and exposing darkness to light,” which apparently puts both the United Nations and the CIA out of a job. The too-little, too-late unveiling of one of the world’s most oppressive leaders isn’t Columbia’s red flag to wave.
To keep one’s friends close and one’s enemies closer is one thing. However, to provide one’s enemy with a provocative stage for his equally provocative platform merely sets fire to an ego that is already doused in gasoline.
If Ahmadinejad’s threat of killing Jews wasn’t reason enough for Bollinger to rescind his invitation, does he have to actually kill (more of) them? Then would he be taken more seriously?
Is Ahmadinejad the new Hitler? If he was, Columbia University still would have invited him, according to John Coatsworth, Columbia’s interim dean of the School of International and Public Affairs, who told Fox News, “If [Hitler] were willing to engage in a debate and a discussion, to be challenged by Columbia students and faculty, we would certainly invite him.” That right there is what public relations dreams are made of.
The marketplace of ideas is essential in a free society. There is no doubt that it is important to provide some sort of forum for different voices to be heard. But where do we draw the line? Would Columbia (or any other university) have invited Saddam Hussein? A Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan? Doubtful.
One saving grace for today’s event is the equal division of Ahmadinejad’s time between his speaking and his responding to hard-hitting inquiries from the audience.
Hopefully someone flew Andrew Meyer to New York to ask some questions.