Friday, September 29, 2006

"The great dictator's lecture series" 

That's what Captain Ed has called the series of lectures at Columbia University by Moammar Qaddafi and potentially Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The latter was disinvited by the school's president, which has prompted the dean who invited Ahmadinejad to quit her position. Ed hopes the lecture series "will come to an end". I guess I'd have to ask why. How much more effective could my lectures on the values of economic and political freedom be if I could have them listen to those who deny them to their people? I don't think that idea is at all as "ludicrous" as Ed says. Perhaps this is why President Lee Bollinger said the ex-dean could pay for Ahmadinejad to come to campus, but that he would not: to have Ahmadinejad speak to a classroom prepared to hear the man in context of understanding genocide, or autocracy, or radical Islam, is befitting an institution that values the free inquiry of ideas. Honoring him with some payment as a university guest as a leader, on the other hand, gives a stamp of approval.

To those who would try to check the slipperiness of my slope by saying "would you invite David Duke?" or "...Louis Farrakhan?" or ... fill-in your favorite villain here? The answer is, it depends on the venue and the academic purpose to which they are invited. Rights to free speech on campus aren't needed for the speech you like; they are vital to gaining understanding of the speech you hate.