Reason's Managing Editor Jesse Walker:
"When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University yesterday, he did not emerge with the "propaganda victory" that the neocon pundit Bill Kristol assured us he would receive. He didn't seem to be having fun either. Instead, he had to listen while Columbia President Lee Bollinger lambasted him for the terrible state of civil liberties in Iran: the executions, the political prisoners, the persecution of homosexuals. Bollinger also questioned Iran's foreign policy—sometimes skating past the province of the proven, but never beyond the realm of legitimate inquiries—and he challenged the Iranian for suggesting the Holocaust is a "myth." Agence France-Presse called the introduction "a humiliating and public dressing down."
And then, after presenting his point of view, Ahmadinejad faced frequently hostile questions from the audience. Immediately before the Columbia speech, he had spoken via satellite to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where he also had to answer audience questions. Before that he appeared on 60 Minutes, where he had faced still more questions. For a few days in September, the president of a repressive religious regime actually had to engage his critics.
No wonder the hawks were up in arms. For months Kristol and company have been telling us that engaging Iran is a dreadful, futile mistake. When they complained about Columbia's decision to let that country's president speak on campus, they were simply continuing this crippling inability to distinguish conversation from surrender. Maybe they were genuinely afraid that this would be a PR triumph for Ahmadinejad, and maybe they just didn't like the idea of a pause for reflection as they steamroll us to war. Either way, they were wrong."
"But free speech is at issue, because this tempest gets to the heart of a key argument for the open marketplace of ideas: the idea that hearing what other people have to say and confronting their ideas is good, and that doing so makes us not weaker but stronger. "This event has nothing whatsoever to do with any rights of the speaker," Bollinger said as he introduced his guest, "but only with our rights to listen and speak. We do it for ourselves."
That is why the petty tyrant who spoke at Columbia emerged bruised instead of beaming. Because the people who posed questions were free to ask those questions, and because they were free to hear his answers. They had an enormous opportunity, and they made the most of it. Only a coward would see such an opening and fear catastrophe."
Read the entire column here.