By Richard Larsen
Published – Idaho State Journal, 09/30/07
The appearance of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Columbia University raises a couple of ancillary questions regarding free speech. First, although we can speak freely, is everyone warranted an audience for their speech, and second, what constitutes tolerance at America’s universities. The first is a question of propriety and wisdom, while the second has to do with evidence of how “tolerance” is practiced on university campuses nationwide.
Regardless of how the event actually transpired, Ahmadinajad’s purpose was fulfilled by his very appearance as he was granted a bully pulpit from a prestigious American university from which to spew his propaganda and create his sound bites for the Islamic masses around the world. And sure enough, the next day’s coverage by Al Jezeera provided heavily edited footage to make the Iranian totalitarian the hero du jour of Islamic extremists. Clips of the President’s comments layered with video of the cheering audience of American students and professors was all they needed to perpetuate their propaganda war against the U.S. Lee Bollinger, President of Columbia University, proved true the ancient aphorism “When they are learned, they think they are wise.” Regrettably, the symptom is not exclusive to Columbia.
As smart as the University president undoubtedly is, how can he be so naïve as to not realize that he was simply being used by Iran for propaganda purposes? Even in his questions, he asked the Iranian president “Can you tell us why Iran is fighting a proxy war in Iraq by arming Shi’a militia targeting and killing U.S. troops?” So the academic has some understanding of the reality of the evil perpetrated by the Iranian state. So why grant an enemy of America the courtesy of a propaganda stage. Would he grant such an audience to Adolf Hitler? He says he would. How about Osama Bin Laden? He hasn’t answered that one that I know of, but probably so. I cherish the fact that I live in a country where one can speak his mind. But that still begs the question of “Should he have been given an audience?” Prudence and wisdom would rule “no” in context with current events.
Frankly, even with our ardent belief in freedom of speech, not every voice is entitled to be heard. The Ku Klux Klan may speak freely on the street corner, but they shouldn’t be invited to a university to grant them an exclusive audience.
Bollinger claimed the reason Ahmadinejad was invited to Columbia was for free speech, diversity, and academic freedom. “I want to say as forcefully as I can that this is the right thing to do and, indeed, it is required by existing norms of free speech, the American university and Columbia itself,” he said.
Yet where is the evidence of percipient diversity when Columbia refuses to allow the ROTC or military recruiters on his campus? Where was that commitment to free speech when the Minutemen (civilian border monitors) were physically and verbally assaulted on his campus last year, forcing them from the stage and not allowed to speak?
This ties directly into the second issue: that of tolerance. For Columbia is not alone in its dogmatic interpretation of tolerance. Examples of selective free speech and selective “diversity” abound to the extent that intolerance of anyone or anything from the right of the political spectrum seems endemic to the university environment.
Larry Summers, a former Secretary of Treasury in the Clinton Administration, was forced from his post as President of Harvard University last year for comments that were academically plausible yet politically incorrect. He was removed from a list of guest speakers at a symposium just last week at Cal State Davis because of pressure due to those politically incorrect statements.
Tom Tancredo, a conservative congressman and Presidential candidate was assaulted at Michigan State University and not allowed to finish his presentation.
Ann Coulter, conservative columnist and political pundit was assaulted at the University of Arizona and pelted with pies.
Andrew Card, former Chief of Staff for President Bush was booed when granted an honorary degree at the University of Massachusetts. And it wasn’t just students. Faculty joined in the fray.
In April, Harvard University students, faculty and staff booed down former FBI Director Robert Mueller. A melee ensued resulting in the arrest of several students for their roles in the disruption.
Stanford University faculty members are protesting the Hoover Institution's appointment of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as a visiting fellow.
David Horowitz, once an accepted radical darling on university campuses, a 1960’s radical-turned-conservative, can hardly appear on campus anywhere now without having to face demonstrations, hate speech, and intolerance.
The student newspaper at Colorado State University this week in lieu of an editorial, ran in large type, “Tazer this. F*** You Bush!” What if they had said that about President Clinton, or Martin Luther King, Jr.? Would that still have been propriety in journalism?
On virtually any university campus, student groups organized for the purpose of preserving traditional marriage, preserving our national borders, or recognizing Christ are harassed, sued, and labeled as homophobes, racists, and bigots.
Yet the likes of the fraudulent Ward Churchill have run the university talk circuit very profitably spouting anti-American invectives and maledictions all over the country.
Academic tolerance and diversity, as presently constituted, are dogmatic, strident, narrowly defined, and conformist to a radical leftist ideology. It is very reminiscent of the thuggish peer pressure imposed by the Nazi youth of Hitler’s time. It is selective tolerance and diversity at its worst.
Academic tolerance is allowed as long as the propaganda fits a predefined polemic of anti-Americanism, anti-Bushism, anti-military, and anti-anything-conservative. If universities are to be true instruments of education, their definition of tolerance must be dramatically broadened. And, as we learned in the Columbia University situation this week, “tolerance” must be tempered with wisdom and judicial restraint. Fortunately, Idaho State University escapes this pattern so common elsewhere.
Further, our academic institutions should be forums of free expression and true intellectual diversity, tempered with wisdom and judgment to recognize when an audience is warranted.