Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his country is not headed to war with the United States as he launched a public relations blitz that will include an appearance at Columbia University on Monday. Ahmadinejad—who is in New York to make a speech at the United Nations on Tuesday—also said Tehran is not trying to build a nuclear weapon. “What need do we have for a bomb?” he said in an interview aired on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”
Columbia University President Lee Bollinger has resisted calls to cancel a student forum with Ahmadinejad, who has called the Holocaust “a myth” and called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” Bollinger countered critics by saying he would personally introduce Ahmadinejad, and ask him tough questions about his views, and his government’s alleged support of terrorism.
How “disgusting,” said Roger Kimball in Armavirumque, The New Criterion’s blog. Universities are supposed to be dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. They’re not “circuses for the exhibition of politically repugnant grandstanding.” Bollinger justified inviting this “madman” to his school with a “prim” lecture about free speech. But “his incontinent demand that his university provide a forum for all ideas, no matter how toxic, erodes freedom by making it vulnerable to fanaticism.”
“The issue here is not free speech,” said David Feith and Jordan Hirsch in National Review Online. Nobody is arguing that university’s should “try to shield students from controversial views or be fearful of any ideas.” But welcoming Ahmadinejad to Columbia’s campus bestows upon him “a political gift”—legitimacy—“that he does not deserve, and that he will use to further repress his people and threaten his neighbors. It is shameful to receive him here as an official guest.”
Perhaps, but conservatives should be thrilled, said Azadeh Ensha in The Huffington Post. “Ahmadinejad is their best tool.” Every time the man opens his mouth he spouts “incendiary” lines that the Bush adminstration “and its hawks” can cite as reasons for eliminating the Iranian regime. “Rather than working to shut him down, they should sit back and let him speak.”
Besides, we’re all adults here, said Thom Hartmann, also in The Huffington Post. The nation and Columbia’s students can handle Ahmadinejad—we have the smarts to “evaluate his words, whatever they may be.” As John F. Kennedy once said, “A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”
One can’t have “a dialogue with a jihadist despot who denies the Holocaust and is arming to the teeth,” said The Washington Times in an editorial. Thank goodness the city of New York had the guts to rebuff Ahmadinejad’s attempt to visit ground zero, where the World Trade Center towers were obliterated on Sept. 11, 2001. “To permit a man whose government funnels hundreds of millions of dollars annually to Hezbollah and Hamas” and provides weapons to insurgents so they can kill American soldiers in Iraq “would be an obscenity.”
President Bush “is the one who desecrates” that hallowed ground, said James Carroll in The Boston Globe (free registration). After 9/11, the world stood with us—even Ahmadinejad’s predecessor, then-Iranian-president Mohammed Khatami—sent condolences and called the suicide hijackings “the ugliest form of terrorism ever seen.” But “it was George W. Bush” who failed to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, and “transformed ground zero from a site toward which the world looked with empathy for American pain into a hypernationalistic symbol of a singularly American victimhood.”