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“Free speech” controversy

September 24, 2007

The big story on all the local NY channels today is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to NYC.  Unlike most tourists coming to our fair city, he’s here to address the UN General Assembly.  He’s hoping that in his free time he can pull off a visit to Ground Zero and speak at Columbia University.  NYPD denied him permission to visit the former WTC site, bowing to what they said were security concerns, but apparently he may try to go anyhow.  His talk at Columbia is being hotly debated right now on TV, and probably in the blogosphere as well.  Some say Columbia’s decision to host him falls in the category of free speech and should be supported.  Others feel that it is a great injustice to give a pulpit to a “evil madman”.  Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, who gives me the willies every time he comes on screen, played talking head #1 on Today against the president of Columbia, who defended his university’s actions.  Donohue’s point was that a university’s mission is not to promote free speech, but to pursue truth. How you can pursue truth without free speech, I do not know. I do have to say that while I am no supporter of Ahmadinejad or his regime, nor am I someone who usually runs around under a free speech banner, I am in favor of Columbia granting him the time to speak. It’s an amazing opportunity for students to look into the face of evil, to see what makes up this man, to try to understand and demystify him. I remember when I was in college, Louis Farrakhan was scheduled to speak (note, I am in no way comparing Farrakhan to the Iranian leader). Many protested his appearance, led by the Jewish groups on campus. But I thought it was a time and a place to hear first hand what he was about, to get unfiltered and first hand experience with what he was all about. I was able to make up my own mind about his philosophy and decide for myself how I felt about him. If we are to say that Ahmadinejad is akin to a Hitler, as many are saying, isn’t it better that we as a people know what he’s all about now, than later on when the stakes are far higher?

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