Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Upper East Side, Sept. 2007
Our big controversy has been the visit from the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As you’ve probably seen on the news, his appearance at Columbia University was attended by a zillion demonstrators, including many who said he should never have been allowed to speak. He wasn’t allowed to visit ground zero.
I don’t get this. We’re supposed to be a free country, and it seems to me that the way to counter hateful perspectives is to permit their expression and then point out how wrong they are. Pushing someone away, trying to shut them down before they say anything, is not the way to resolve differences. It only makes them stronger. Ahmadinejad believes some scary things - he insists there are no gay people in Iran, for example, though people have been repeatedly executed there for gay activity. But the only way to counter such bigotry is to air it out and then point out its wrongness.
I keep thinking about those surveys that show people’s acceptance of gays in general skyrockets once they know a gay individual personally. Ahmadinejad thinks he doesn’t know any. For him, it’s all a big abstraction.
So should his views be aired at Columbia? Well, like it or not, the guy is one of the leaders of a country that’s going to play a critical role in our foreign policy. Aren’t we supposed to know our adversaries? And maybe if we listen to them, find a starting point for change? Refusing to engage an adversary just allows hostility to flourish.
And so he wanted to go to Ground Zero. Why not? Iran didn’t destroy the World Trade Center. None of the hijackers were Iranian. Wouldn’t it do the Muslim world some good to see Ahmadinejad laying a wreath at the site, paying respects? Wouldn’t that remind extremists of the essential humanity of the victims?