"I'm proud of my university today," Stina Reksten, a 28-year-old Columbia graduate student from Norway, told The New York Times. "I don't want to confuse the very dire human rights situation in Iran with the issue here, which is freedom of speech. This is about academic freedom." Isn't it always?... I don't know whether Stina Reksten, as a 28-year old Norwegian, can be held up as an exemplar of American youth, but she certainly seems to have mastered the lingo: We've invited the President of Iran to speak but let's not confuse "the very dire human rights situation" — or his nuclear program, or his Holocaust denial, or his role in the seizing of the embassy hostages, or his government's role in the deaths of American troops and Iraqi civilians — with the more important business of applauding ourselves for our celebration of "academic freedom."The self-congratulatory ideological back patting would be frustrating enough if it wasn't also insanely stupid. Not to get pedantic, but freedom of speech and academic freedom aren't about helping people that you disagree with. They don't mean that academics are supposed to go out, find genocidal lunatics, and provide them with platforms for propaganda. That's not freedom of speech, that's making a choice to promote that particular kind of speech - to actively seek it out and bring it into the public dialogue. The correct question is: why would they choose to care about something like that? Why is it important that Ahmadinejad be brought into the discussion?
With the very deluded exception of liberal intellectual George Lakoff, there's no Western conception of freedom that says "freedom means having to do things you don't want to do or help people you disagree with." Most people would quite rightly say that having to spend blood and treasure helping your enemies is the opposite of freedom. Unless the people justifying Ahmadinejad's Columbia visit don't really consider him an enemy. Which is also something that should probably be discussed a little bit more.
[Cross-posted to Mere Rhetoric]