Jeff Strabone on his blog.
A lot of obvious arguments have been rolled out against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at Columbia University yesterday: that he’s a hatemonger, a Holocaust denier, a homophobe, and so on. These are all valid criticisms of the man, for he is all those things. He certainly did his credibility no help yesterday with these remarks, reported by the BBC:
‘Asked about executions of homosexuals in Iran, Mr Ahmadinejad replied: “In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.”
Reacting to laughter and jeers from the audience he added: “In Iran we don’t have this phenomenon, I don’t know who you told this.”‘
Universities have a special place in public life. They are the one place where intellectual freedom is taken most seriously. That is not to say that universities ought to invite rude individuals with bad ideas to speak, but it is understandable that they sometimes do.
Despite all of that, Columbia was wrong to allow Ahmadinejad on its campus, and it’s not because he hates Jews, gays, and men with stylish haircuts. There are surely members of the Columbia community—faculty and students alike—who hold these and other prejudices. And it’s not because he has blood on his hands. If that were the rule, it would be hard to find an important figure in world politics who qualified. Besides that, we might not agree on which international bloodletters were terrorists and which were freedom fighters. No, there is an even more fundamental reason than that: Ahmadinejad is the enemy of universities.