I've been considering whether any good could possibly come out of bringing up the Ahmadinejad story, especially now that we're all quite sick of hearing about it. But maybe that's a reason to bring up this particular argument now.
Throughout the coverage of the event -- in which Columbia invited the Iranian president to speak -- it seemed to me that we all go so hot-headed that we were incapable of even playing the usual "devil's advocate" position, you know, the one in which we at least pretend to consider what possible benefit there could be in inviting a radical, loony islamist to one of our great scholastic institutions.
If we are cooled down at least enough to do that now, I would like to posit one. Namely, it seems to me that one of the principal reasons of all the animosity against Americans is precisely that folks in that part of the world don't have any channel through which to communicate their ideas and their frustration with Americans. Even if they are loony.
Indeed, the official position of the Israeli media is to seek to maintain its monopoly on the Middle East perspectives that are offered to Americans by calling for further suppression of “the Palestinian perspective.” Israeli Consulate, http://israelemb.org/sanfran/News&Media/background/faq/peace.htm. Thus it should come as no surprise that the American media routinely report “on the personal and psychological impact of suicide bombings on Israelis,” but that Americans “seldom see stories about the impact on Palestinians of the occupation and all its aspects—the civilian deaths, the roadblocks, the land confiscation, the curfews, the depredations by settlers, the shootings by soldiers, the destruction of olive groves, etc., etc.” Kathleen Christison, New York Time’s Anti-Palestinian Bias, Arab News, Aug. 21, 2002, available at http://www.aljazeerah.info.
This is just one illustration of why we should be at least critical of suppressing any kind of speech. Regardless of the rightness of the views expressed, the value is simply in the expression. In other words, I would posit that if radical islamists had a ready channel by which to express their views, what would happen is not more terrorism. Instead, more people would understand why their position is ludicrous. As a result, once those radicals are able to vet out their ideas, put them in the marketplace of ideas, they would be forced to realize that their ideas are not being received not because no one has heard them, but because they really do objectively suck. Once they realize that people ARE hearing their message, and STILL not buying it, it would begin to sink in that they really are imbeciles.
Speech is as much for the speaker as it is for the listener. Anyone who's married, or been in any relationship for that matter, knows that basic truth. But these poor clods are sitting in the middle of the desert with no one with half a brain to talk to, no one to really listen, to really try to understand, and thus to provide a process by which they might work their way out of their muddle-headed, infantile thinking.
Now, I don't propose that allowing Ahmadinejad to speak was the right call, even assuming all of the above is true. I do appreciate the caution that we must take in hosting these radicals. And I am certainly wary of sounding anything remotely like Hillary. (In fact, why don't we take the same tack we did with Ahmadinejad when Hillary is invited to speak?) My only question is why none of this factored into the debate. At all.