It didn't work out that way, of course -- as Bollinger ought to have known, and Ahmadinejad certainly knew, it wouldn't. The questions the students asked that day, whatever they were, have long since been forgotten, and a watching world remembers only the image of President Ahmadinejad on television, politely and patiently asking perfectly intelligent questions, such as why historical events like the Holocaust cannot continue to be studied indefinitely. And the surroundings in which he asked them were not those of a soapbox in Union Square, but the lapidary circumstances of an auditorium at one of America's most prestigious universities, following an introduction by its president.
Bollinger used that introduction to lay down a barrage of insults to Ahmadinejad, calling him a "tyrant" and much else, whereby he clearly hoped to take some of the curse off of his blunder in inviting him in the first place. But this amounted to piling one blunder on top of another. If Ahmadinejad was indeed not worth listening to (and he certainly wasn't), the remedy was not to trash him in introducing him but never to have invited him in the first place in obedience to some nonexistent requirement of the First Amendment to the Constitution.
There were plenty of avenues of opinion open to Ahmadinejad, when he came to this country, to say anything he wanted to say. There are scores of sympathetic print and electronic media here who would have considered it an honor to be selected to carry his words. There are halls without number that could have been hired, and filled to capacity with people eager to applaud him (as a robust minority of the Columbia audience did, to its shame). The idea that the Constitution required Lee Bollinger to offer this avowed enemy of the United States a distinguished setting in which to peddle his propaganda is a nonstarter if there ever was one.
The right of free speech is too precious to be perverted by a university president unable to tell a noble gesture from a cheap stunt.
William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and author of How to Win Arguments .
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