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."If Ahmadinejad’s goal was to score some political points, as many right-wingers are contending, he failed miserably. By the end of the speech, Ahmadinejad only made himself look like a fool. This happens when you espouse idiotic ideas, like the ones Ahmadinejad fervently believes in, and are not use to getting challenged by people or second-guessed by the media.
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.
Columbia President Lee Bollinger got a lot of flack for inviting Ahmadinejad in the first place, but more than made up for it with his fervent attack on Ahmadinejad, including calling him a “cruel and petty dictator.” No, the genius of Bollinger is this: by inviting Ahmadinejad to Columbia, who, like all dictators, like their egos stroked (and often), Bollinger was able to deftly maneuver a rather shrewd and slippery character into the spotlight, forcing him to endure ridicule and a barrage of critical questions about his tyrannical regime. The stunned look on his face was priceless.
Honestly, I don’t know what Ahmadinejad was expecting when he accepted an invitation by Columbia to speak there. A fawning crowd, perhaps? A standing ovation? If he wanted that, he should either go home to Iran or speak at an anti-war rally sponsored by A.N.S.W.E.R.