When Did We Start to Fear Speech?

I feel like it is time for one of those unpopular libertarian rants that piss everyone off.   As with the last time this issue came up, I just don't understand what we fear so much letting Iranian dictator Amadinejad speak on American soil.  I am absolutely all for letting people put themselves on the record in the clearest possible way.  McQ over at Q&O is a smart guy I often agree with, but his core assumption seems to be that an invitation from Columbia University somehow confers some legitimacy on an otherwise egregious world leader.  How?  I am not sure the Columbia name even confers much legitimacy on its faculty.  The only thing the decision communicates to me is that Columbia, the university that didn't allow presentation of the Mohammad cartoons and that allows speakers to be manhandled off the stage, is deeply confused about speech issues on campus.

Information is always useful.  Would I have allowed Hitler to speak in the US in the 1930's?  Hell yes!  I wish he had gone on a 20-city speaking tour.  Hitler couldn't help but telegraph his true intentions every time he spoke.  Hell, he wrote it all down in a book if people would have paid attention.  But what if he didn't?  What if he convinced all America he was peaceful?  Even then it would have been useful.  Intelligent media (if there are any left) could then compare and contrast what he said at home vs. what he said in the US, much like a few folks do with Muslim clerics, comparing their English and Arabic speeches.  Further, folks would have immediately seen Hitler was lying in September of 1939, and, knowing Americans, they would have been more pissed off at him for being lied to.  Further, it would be fabulous to have quotes form Mussolini, touring eastern US cities, praising the New Deal and the NRA, much of which was modeled on his program in Italy.

What about, as Roger Simon asks:

I have a question for the Columbia crowd, since Holocaust deniers are
welcome, would you allow a speaker in favor of a return to black
slavery? I hope not. Well, that's how I feel about Holocaust deniers.

Absolutely I would.  If there was a prominent person who advocated the return to black slavery, I would want that person on the record in public.  I would love to listen to see what kind of supporters he thought he had, and, perhaps more importantly, to see who reacted favorably to him.   You have to pull these guys up into the sunlight and show the world how distasteful they are.

Update:

During the 1930s, "one of the things we really lacked in this country
was sufficient contact with Nazis to realize what they are up to," said
Harvey Silverglate, a prominent civil rights attorney who has sharply
criticized higher education for failing to support free speech on
campus. The notion "that you're going to take really awful people and
not listen to them is really suicidal for any society."

  • http://polyscifi.blogspot.com Jody

    Two comments:

    1) I know some criticize the legitimization, but I find the hypocrisy angle (Glichrist vs Ahmadinejad) to be more resonant (with me).

    2) Gilchrist actually supports Ahmadinejad's visit.

  • http://kim.scarborough.chicago.il.us/ Kim Scarborough

    I agree. It's a little different, but this reminds me of a conversation Henry Kissinger & Ted Koppel once had on the air... I think it was during the Achille Lauro Hijacking. Kissinger was complaining about the media televising the hijackers' actions, and asked rhetorically if it would have been appropriate to have shown news footage Jews being marched to the ovens in the Holocaust. Koppel was stunned, and said (I'm paraphrasing from memory here): "Absolutely! Can you imagine what the outrage of the world would have been? I can't believe you would think otherwise."

  • http://geistbear.blogware.com Thomas

    I think one angle bothers me is the University won't allow ROTC program on campus because of the military's policy towards gay people, but if you are a foriegn leader whose country kills them then it's okay, seems a little hypocritical.

    But that is more of an issue with the University not the speaker.

  • bill-tb

    Hey I agree with Columbia, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Free speech, sure as long as I get to pick who speaks.

    If it's a free speech issue, then all speakers have a right to speak. Anyone from Columbia care to extend a speaking engagement to the NRA? The Minutement? ROTC? If not, I guess it's not free speech that really is the issue, now is it?

    Hypocrisy, thy name is Columbia University.

    The good news, the Amadinejad caliphate will deal with the academics first, then move on to the media types ... And the way he will treat gays, don't ask. Just look at what goes on in Iran today for all the information you need about the future.

  • Micah

    Agree with everyone else. The issue for me isn't that they give the guy a platform, per se. It's that they give platforms in an entirely different way than the blog post suggests. It's not to "hear and record for posterity," it's to give the man a bully pulpit to bash America. If you don't feel like it's a pulpit, just look at the people they WON'T give it to.

  • Micah

    Agree with everyone else. The issue for me isn't that they give the guy a platform, per se. It's that they give platforms in an entirely different way than Coyote's post suggests. It's not to "hear and record for posterity," it's to give the man a bully pulpit to bash America. If you don't feel like it's a pulpit, just look at the people they WON'T give it to.

  • http://www.google.com ErikTheRed

    Can we all please quit pretending this is a freedom of speech issue? This is all about Columbia being able to show off how anti-Bush / anti-American-hegemony they are and to give their faculty, staff, and students some locally shot video to masturbate to later. People who truly believe in free speech shouldn't be bothered by the legality of this jackass speaking. Whether or not it's in good taste is an entirely separate issue, but not one with legal implications. IMHO, he's not going to contribute anything useful to the debate. We pretty much know his position is something along the lines of "the holocaust never happened, by I can fix that..."

  • http://jrament.blogspot.com/ James R Ament

    No argument with the original post or any comments. Just thought I'd add this: When someone of significance on the world stage wants to be an idiot, give him or her a megaphone.

    I noted that Bollinger's opening remarks were rather pointed!

  • http://jackalopepursuivant.typepad.com/ Dan

    My objection is nothing to do with free speech. Ahmadinejad is the head of state of a country that is actively waging a proxy war against the United States, supplying explosives being used against American soldiers and Marines, and Iraqi and Israeli civilians. Diplomatic protocol requires us to allow him to visit the United Nations, but I don't see why he should be allowed, or indeed invited, to go anywhere else at all.

  • Streaker

    I thought Ahmadinejad was already doing a fine job proving his mental state while in his own country. I don't see the need to welcome him here to do the same thing. He's a despicable little thug.

    If someone murdered a member of my family I would not then invite them to my home.

  • Dan

    I'm as much in favor of free speech as everyone else, but there's still a small voice in the back of my head.

    The thought that comes to mind is the same as when Mike Wallace interviewed him and when Dan Rather interviewed Saddam Hussein:

    Shouldn't we just kill the guy while we've got him within reach?

  • http://brcbanter.blogspot.com Craig

    Anyone notice the rousing applause Mahmoud received from the best and brightest at Columbia?

  • http://www.coyoteblog.com/coyote_blog/2007/09/when-did-we-sta.html Greg

    "I just don't understand what we **fear** so much letting Iranian dictator Amadinejad speak on American soil. I am absolutely all for letting people put themselves on the record in the clearest possible way...."

    I don't understand why it's referred to as "fear." Or why people use the word "terrified" to refer to the idea that Amadinejad should be allowed to speak.

    It's not fear. Try loathing, disgust, or another word that makes better sense. you make a good point about allowing him to speak, and I think you're right on, but let's be a little more respectful of the opposition's point of view.

    Or do we assume that the reason Columbia doesn't invite Gilchrist or Limbaugh or Bush is that they're terrified of them? Fear rules Columbia's roost?

  • markm

    "My objection is nothing to do with free speech. Ahmadinejad is the head of state of a country that is actively waging a proxy war against the United States"

    And furthermore, he was one of the leaders of the group that stormed our embassy and held our diplomats hostage in about 1980. Why oh why did our State Department ever give him a diplomatic passport guaranteeing him safe passage through our country when he has a record of ignoring such guaranties?

    Sure, if Columbia U. wanted to hear him, I'm in favor of letting him demonstrate his nuttiness there - if we could arrest him right afterwards...

  • Scott Wiggins

    It was a political coup for Imadickhead to speak at an American, so called, Ivy league institution. That is how it will play in Iran...Columbia was the "useful idiot enabler" in this event...I do see one brightspot however, that is that this event spotlighted yet another American University as a member of the lunatic fringe. America's students should worry less about politics and more about how they are going to compete for jobs in the global economy. They will figure this out eventually, but for most of them it will come too late...