Monday, September 24, 2007

One Silly Speech Has the Defenders of the Free World Quaking

With Ahmadinejad's appearance at Columbia University having supplanted the MoveOn "General Betray-Us" ad as the right wing's latest favorite distraction from the real-world catastrophes they have created, we can look at Anne Applebaum's column in Slate for the strongest (i.e. least mouth-frothing) explanation of why the Iranian dictator's speech in New York was a terrible mistake:
Ahmadinejad's agenda is different . . . from that of the traditional autocrat. His goal is not merely to hold power in Iran through sheer force, or even through a standard 20th-century personality cult. His goal is to undermine the American and Western democracy rhetoric that poses an ideological threat to the Iranian regime. Last winter, when he invited a host of dubious Holocaust-deniers to discuss the Holocaust in Tehran, he claimed it was in order to provide shelter for the West's "dissidents"--that is, for Western thinkers "who cannot express their views freely in Europe about the Holocaust." This week, he declared that his visit to New York will help the American people, who have "suffered in diverse ways and have been deprived of access to accurate information." Thus, the speech at Columbia: Here he is, the allegedly undemocratic Ahmadinejad, taking questions from students! At an American university! Look who's the real democrat now!

This sort of game is both irritating and dangerous, particularly when it is being played by a man whose regime locks up academics for the "crime" of organizing academic conferences and regularly arrests the Iranian equivalent of the students who listened to him speak Monday.
Applebaum's analysis of Ahmadinejad's motives rings true to me, and indeed it is "irritating" to see a theocratic tyrant pose as an avatar of reason and democracy. But why is it "dangerous"? What harm did Ahmadeinejad's speeech do?

Absolutely none that I can see. In fact, inviting this silly man to address an audience of highly intelligent New Yorkers--and letting him experience having his inane remarks greeted by boos and laughter--strikes me as quite a salutary experience for all concerned.

What has happened to this country--the most powerful country on Earth, as we constantly like to boast--that we should be so terrified of mere words from the lips of a tinhorn dictator?

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