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Sunday, September 30, 2007
Here is today's OC Register column by Mark Steyn. Suffice it to say, it's REALLY good. A commenter on one of my most recent posts asked why Ahmadinejad was invited to speak considering how he was "introduced." Steyn gives an answer to this question.
"I'm proud of my university today," Stina Reksten, a 28-year-old Columbia graduate student from Norway, told the New York Times. "I don't want to confuse the very dire human rights situation in Iran with the issue here, which is freedom of speech. This is about academic freedom."

Isn't it always? But enough about Iran, let's talk about me! The same university that shouted down an American anti-illegal-immigration activist and the same university culture that just deemed former Harvard honcho Larry Summers too misogynist to be permitted on campus is now congratulating itself over its commitment to "academic freedom." True, renowned Stanford psychology professor Philip Zimbardo is not happy. "They can have any fascist they want there," said professor Zimbardo, "but this seems egregious." But, hey, don't worry: He was protesting not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presence at Columbia but Donald Rumsfeld's presence at the Hoover Institution.
...
We've invited the president of Iran to speak but let's not confuse "the very dire human-rights situation" – or his nuclear program, or his Holocaust denial, or his role in the seizing of the U.S. Embassy hostages, or his government's role in the deaths of American troops and Iraqi civilians – with the more important business of applauding ourselves for our celebration of "academic freedom."

So much of contemporary life is about opportunities for self-congratulation. Risk-free dissent is the default mode of our culture, and extremely seductive. If dissent means refusing to let the Bush administration bully you into wearing a flag lapel pin, why, then Katie Couric (bravely speaking out on this issue just last week) is the new Mandela! If Rumsfeld is a "fascist." then anyone can fight fascism. It's no longer about the secret police kicking your door down and clubbing you to a pulp. Well, OK, it is if you're a Buddhist monk in Burma. But they're a long way away, and it's all a bit complicated and foreign, and let's not "confuse the very dire human rights situation" in Hoogivsastan with an opportunity to celebrate our courage in defending "academic freedom" in America. Ahmadinejad must occasionally have felt he was appearing in a matinee of "A Chance To Hear [Insert Name Of Enemy Head Of State Here]." Could have been Chavez, could have been Mullah Omar, could have been Herr ReichsfuhrerHitler himself, as Columbia's Dean John Coatsworth proudly boasted on television.
...
Civilized nations like chit-chatting, having tea, holding debates, talking talking talking. Tyrannies like terrorizing people, torturing people, murdering people, doing doing doing. It's easier for the doers to pass themselves off as talkers then for the talkers to rouse themselves to do anything.

As witness this last week. Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, was evidently taken aback by the criticism he got for inviting Ahmadinejad and so found himself backed into what, for a conventional soft-leftie of academe, was a ferocious denunciation of his star guest, dwelling at length on Iran's persecution of minorities, murder of dissidents, sponsorship of terrorism, nuclear ambitions, genocidal threats toward Israel, etc. For a warmup act, Bollinger pretty much frosted up the joint. The Iranian leader sat through the intro with a plastic smile, and then said: "I shall not begin by being affected by this unfriendly treatment." He offered many illuminating insights: There are, he declared, no homosexuals in Iran. Not one. Where are they? On a weekend visit to Kandahar to see the new production of "Mame"? Alas, there was no time for follow-up questions.

And afterwards Bollinger got raves even from the right for "speaking truth to power." But so what? It's like Noel Coward delivering a series of devastating put-downs to Hitler. The Fuhrer's mad as hell but at the end of the afternoon he goes back to killing, and dear Noel goes back to singing "The Stately Homes Of England." Ahmadinejad goes back to doing – to persecuting, to murdering, to terrorizing, to nuclearizing – and Bollinger cuts out his press clippings and puts them on the fridge.

The other day, National Review's Jay Nordlinger was musing about our habit of referring to some benighted part of the world's "humanitarian needs" and wondered when we'd stopped using the term "human needs," which is, after all, what food, water and shelter are. And his readers wrote in to state the obvious: That "humanitarian" label gives top billing not to the distant, Third World victim but the generous Western donor – the "humanitarian" relief effort, the "humanitarian" organizations, the NGOs, the Western charities: It's about us, not them. Bill Clinton's new bestseller on charity is called "Giving" – because it's better to give than to receive, and that's certainly true if the giver is busying himself with some ineffectual feel-good "Save Darfur" fundraiser while the recipient is on the receiving end of the Janjaweed's machetes. The Sudanese government appreciates that, as long as we're allowed to feel good about ourselves and to participate in "humanitarian relief," the killing can go on until there's no one left to kill. Likewise, Ahmadinejad knows that, as along as we're allowed to do what we do best – talk and talk and talk, whether at Columbia or in EU negotiations – his regime can quietly get on with its nuclear program.

These men understand the self-absorption of advanced democracies. The difference between Winston Churchill and Ward Churchill, another famous beneficiary of "academic freedom" who called the 9/11 dead "little Eichmanns," is that for Sir Winston talking was a call to action while for poseurs like professor Churchill it's a substitute for it.

The pen is not mightier than the sword if your enemy is confident you will never use anything other than your pen. Sometimes it's not about "freedom of speech," but about freedom. Ask an Iranian homosexual. If you can find one.

1 comments:

Melchizedek said...

It was probably just a giant publicity stunt by Columbia.

We shouldn't make too much of Ahmadinejad though, he's not really the one in power in Iran.

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Darius' book montage

The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel The Main Thing
Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God
Overcoming Sin and Temptation
According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible
Disciplines of a Godly Man
Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem
When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Ourselves
The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
Respectable Sins
The Kite Runner
Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak
Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak
A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, ... anabaptist/anglican, metho
Show Them No Mercy
The Lord of the Rings
Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass
The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception
Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming
The Chronicles of Narnia
Les Misérables


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