To the Editor:
In her column Tuesday (“Columbia misuses free speech policy, lacks foresight”), Ilana Yurkiewicz maintains that the free speech is secondary to the threat posed by allowing controversial figures like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak.
I disagree with this assertion, but even if I accept the premise that free speech is not the primary issue, I still take issue with the idea that listening to abhorrent ideas is dangerous.
If the Iranian President’s aim was, as Yurkiewicz stated, to brainwash as many people as possible, he failed. Audible laughter greeted many of Ahmadinejad’s statements during his address at Columbia, an SNL video mocking his speech has gained more than 500,000 hits on YouTube and, most tellingly, Iranian bloggers have criticized his rhetoric. (See New York Times article, “Blogging Ahmadinejad in Tehran” 9/30.)
Allowing debate does not strengthen Ahmadinejad; it weakens him, as his ideas are revealed as patently ridiculous. One Iranian blogger cited in the Times asked (after Iranian news outlets refused to broadcast the speech live), “What is interesting is that we claim the Americans want to prevent our voice from being heard, so why do we censor ourselves?”
If we want to win the War on Terror, let’s show that our arguments can stand up to cross-examination, and that our enemies cannot.
Leah Anthony Libresco
Libresco is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College and a member of the American Civil Liberties Union.
To the Editor:
Don’t get me wrong: I personally abhor Mr. Ahmadinejad, disagree wholeheartedly with his disturbing and inflammatory rhetoric and worry about the way in which he has treated his people and the threat he poses to the Middle East and the international community as a whole.
However, unlike in Nazi Germany where speaking out against Hitler would land one in a concentration camp, we in the United States enjoy a marketplace of ideas. In our society, all ideas—including those that some may deem offensive or objectionable—compete freely against one another and the truth ultimately prevails.
The students, whom Ms. Yurkiewicz deemed “susceptible to brainwash,” did not internalize Ahmadinejad’s propaganda; to the contrary, they laughed and jeered at his outlandish assertions (namely, his statement that there are no homosexuals in Iran) and learned firsthand that Mr. Ahmadinejad is a deluded fanatic. Ultimately, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s speech proved exponentially more valuable than denying him the chance to speak. Rather than simply hearing authority figures say that Mr. Ahmadinejad is a cruel and dangerous tyrant, the students at Columbia and people around the world were able to come to the conclusion that Ahmadinejad is a raging maniac on their own.
The suggestion that extending an invitation to speak to the Iranian president would somehow “legitimiz[e] the viewpoints of a dictator” or aid and abet Mr. Ahmadinejad in amassing “more people on his side to help him use [bombs he is developing] to kill” seems to have been discredited by the actual aftermath of the speech.
Many within our nation have been overcome by fear, worrying that Ahmadinejad is the next Hitler. I am more inclined to agree with Thomas Friedman, who in January dismissed Ahmadinejad as someone who “recently held a conference about why the Holocaust never happened – to try to gain popularity…and a month later, saw his [party’s] candidates get wiped out by voters who preferred more moderate conservatives.”
Ahmadinejad is a desperate man and is resorting to ridiculous statements in attempt to keep his job.
Levin is a freshman in Silliman College.