Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Resounding Victory for Free Speech

Congratulations to Columbia University for Presenting Mahmoud ImaNutJob

"But King David said to Ornan, “No, but I will buy it for the full price; I will not take for the Lord what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings which cost me nothing.”
Columbia University did us all a great service this past Monday. There's no doubt about it. They hosted a Talk by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Columbia University’s World Leaders Forum. How big a favor did they do us? Their offering was very costly to them. And the star of the show giving the speech provided us with a phrase which will live forever.

As to the cost of all the turmoil surrounding the visit of President NutJob, I have to once again say, I don't understand. I really don't understand. This may sound cryptic, but I have to say that we still haven't learned the lessons of the Viet-Nam War. Even though this came up at the start of the current Iraq war, let me refresh everyone. For a HUGE number of soldiers who returned from the Viet-Nam War, the homecoming was not a pleasant experience. Our nation was (and is) still learning proper expression of political discourse. We were still at the "Kill the Messenger" stage. The war was hugely unpopular and upon the return home of the soldiers, many protesters took their anger at the politicians out on the soldiers themselves. Returning soldiers were actually spit upon. We had not yet learned to separate the messenger from the message.

To this day, we have not learned to separate the messenger from the message. This has come up again recently with everyone tiptoeing around our troops and trying to be sure that they make the point that, while we dislike the war and the politicians who wage the war, we support our troops as our defenders and our pride and joy. Of course we support our troops. The troops did an outstanding job. It's the war and the politicians who started the war with whom we have a bone to pick.

In this context, why is it that people can't let a college bring in a controversial speaker without all the invective against the college host? If you want to protest the speaker and his policies and practices, fine. Although, as I'm from the part of Chicago just south of the suburb of Skokie, I can tell you that protesting people like ImaNutJob is severely counterproductive. The village of Skokie, just north of Chicago is full of Jewish holocaust survivors. Years back when the American Nazi party wanted to exercise their free speech rights by marching through Skokie, as you might suspect, the locals went bananas. There was a tremendous outcry and an expensive legal effort to keep the Nazis from marching. These poor camp survivors were taken advantage of again. Their protest was exactly what the Neo-Nazis wanted.

If the people of Skokie had said, “Yawn, OK, have your march.” and then the entire town stayed home for the day, that would have been the end of the American Nazi party. But the outcry brought the goons months and months of front page publicity which was exactly what they wanted. The publicity was far more valuable than the march was. For a decade, every couple of years, we had another Nazi Party march.

In the same way, why do the protesters have to rage against Columbia University. The university is just providing a forum for speakers. Somebody thought it would be of educational value. And if the protesters had all stayed home, ImaNutJob would have given a speech to 3 or 4 professors and grad students. They would have been the only ones interested in listening to ImaNutJob and not because they were interested in or believed in what he had to say. They would have been there for some obscure point of Iranian history or politics which, 10 minutes after the speech, would have been lost and forgotten in the bowels of the university's Iran department.

The service Columbia University did for us was to provide a forum where academics could hear a speech by an unpopular world leader. The cost to them was the money, time, energy and aggravation of dealing with all the commotion.

And what were the words of Ahmadinejad that will live forever? At some point he came out with the gem, "In Iran, we don't have homosexuals, like in your country." If you don't think THAT is funny, you have no sense of humor what-so-ever. - © Copyright 2008 The Chewed End All rights reserved.

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Seamus O'Bròg is an artist and freelance writer who tries to turn life's irritations into life's lessons.

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