Ahmadinajad and Gus Hall Posted by: Dale Franks
on Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Back in 1962, Yale University's Political Union invited Communist bigwig Gus Hall to speak. William F. Buckley Jr., a Yale Grade, gave a speech to the Political Union urging that they disinvite him. As a result of this speech (PDF), Gus Hall's invitation was rescinded.
The money quote of this speech holds the central thought that, I think, is still relevant, and should've been considered by Columbia, when considering an invite for Mr. Ahmadinejad.
Fight him, fight the tyrants everywhere; but do not ask them to your quarters, merely to spit on them, and do not ask them to your quarters if you cannot spit on them. To do the one is to ambush a human being as one might a rabid dog; to do the other is to ambush oneself, to force oneself, in disregard of those who have died trying to make the point, to break faith with humanity.
Lee Bollinger's speech to Ahmadinejad, however true it might have been, was an ambush. Perhaps he said things that needed to be said. But Mr. Ahmadenijad is a human being, too, and inviting him to Columbia, merely for the purpose of ecxoriating him, is unethical, as well as uncivil. It is Mr. Ahmadinejad that personifies the world of those who hold their fellow human beings in contempt, and abase them at every convenient opportunity. That is supposed to be what they do in their barbaric manner. he is the one who is supposed to heap contumely upon his fellow men, not us.
Inviting him to Columbia, or anywhere else, with the purpose in mind to heap criticism on him, is an act of moral vanity. It allows Mr. Bollinger to preen in supposed moral superiority, for no one's benefit but Mr. Bollinger's. And by extension, those who want to flaunt their moral superiority by proxy. To do so is to use Mr. Ahadinejad as a thing, which is, ironically, the very thing you criticize him for doing.
Conversely, inviting him in order to listen to him, and to have a «debate about his ideas» is also unethical. His "ideas" are nothing more than barbaric totalitarianism. Nothing can deserve less entitlement to a hearing than that. To give him that hearing is to implicitly imbue his "ideas" with a respectability that they do not, in any way, deserve. it implies that his barbarity deserves a respectful hearing, so that its merits may be weighed. To extend that respect, even implicitly, is to break faith with those who have suffered and died opposing his barbarism.
But, surely, his "ideas" deserve no respect at all from a free people, do they? And if so, why give him a platform that implies that they do? Why not invite child molesters or serial murderers to expound on their dirty little self-justifications? After all, don't they have unique points of view as well?
No, Bill Buckley had it right 45 years ago. It is wrong to invite people like Mr. Ahmadinejad into our lives merely to abuse them, and yet, the only thing proper to do with them if if we do invite them, is to abuse them.
With that in mind, it is better not to invite them at all. Because, at the end of the day, it is the human issues—not the political ones—that are the most important.
The point I believe that you are missing is that many, perhaps even most, in academia do in fact "hold their fellow human beings in contempt, and abase them at every convenient opportunity." This, then, is merely another example of the culture that has given rise to groups like FIRE and to the generalized and widespread contempt of academics in the US.
Agreed, the best would have been not to offer the invite in the first place. Instead of Bollinger’s pointless rebuke, it would have been better, after the invite was offered, to change the format where Ahmadinejad would have been more directly challenged - answer the questions or walk off stage.
Of course, the BDS left will nod knowingly convinced that Bush is really worse than that cute Persian. The narcissistic left will incessantly preen that the Bollinger rebuke was worth four times the price of admission. And Ahmadinejad will smugly travel back to Teheran knowing that his jihadist editors are anxiously awaiting the film in the cans. His performance was as much for the audience in the unfree states back home as for the ’enemy of our enemy’ audience here in the west.
Though I often disagree with Buckley, I can agree with his position on this.
While I often agree with Xrlq, I could wish that he had traded in his signature pithiness for elucidatory exposition. He does eschew obfuscation, though.
My largest problem with this bollocks-up is that Bollinger acted the fool, then compounded his error by acting the goat. He had no problem issuing the invitation, but when called on it he cobbled together an indictment the halfling (judging solely by his reaction) had not been expecting. That, my friends, is a classic Blue Falcon moment and make no mistake; they were buddy-buddy until Bollinger started taking heat.
In a way I’m glad to see that the old Prisoner’s Dilemma is still being taught ( by example ), but the situation should never have come up at all. Already, the Iranians are hailing this as proof of this piss-pot’s power and influence, and it is now difficult to say "Hey, it’s only the camel’s nose, and we didn’t really like that tent anyway."
Oh, well. What’s done is done. We must take a page from Musashi and look at what is to be done from here.
If you find yourself typing "Bill Buckley had it right" you should pause to check your reasoning because you’ve gone wrong somewhere. For somebody who claimed to believe in fighting tyrants, Buckley sure had a hard-on for Generalisimo Franco.
The point of such an exchange, to my mind, is an attempt on the part of those arranging the exchange at Columbia to change things for the better. Isn’t that one of the stated reason is that this exchange took place at all?
At the same time, we see a lot of noise lately comparing Iran today and Germany and its leadership in their pre 1939 or post 1939, depending on which side of the argument here on. The question that occurs to me as a bridge between these two contexts, is this:
Would such an exchange, would asking the ’hard questions’ with Adolf Hitler changed history? The answer is probably not. Just as it seemingly didn’t change Gus Hall’s mind. in the end, the only thing such an exchange can do, is give legitimacy to the subject. Hitler, Hall, or in this case Ahmadinejad, and the monstrosity that he represents. In other words, such an exchange is counter productive.
Dale, I do have one quibble... a small one:
Because, at the end of the day, it is the human issues—not the political ones—that are the most important.
Correct in sentiment, perhaps, but not in particulars.
I agree, that human issues are more important than the political ones in the end, since the political is the servant of human issues, or at least it’s supposed to be. What is politics, after all, but the reflection of the values that we hold dear both as individuals and as the various groups, and a means to the end of supporting those values? What makes me uncomfortable about the way you put that, is that it leaves one with the impression that the two can be distinctly separated.
For somebody who claimed to believe in fighting tyrants, Buckley sure had a hard-on for Generalisimo Franco.
Not really. I rather get the impression that he considered Franco the better of the alternatives. But let’s take your statement of face value for a moment, and say Buckley was dead wrong, for the purpose of a question: Because one is wrong once, makes him automatically wrong on all points? he can never again make any pronouncements with any credibility whatever? Or do ideas get taken on as separate entities... separate from their proponents ?
If you don’t understand the post, then no auxiliary explanations will make any sense to you either.
Just because I think your premise is crap, that doesn’t mean I didn’t understand it. I fully understood the reasons you proffered for thinking it was bad to ambush Ahmadinejad: (1) you said so, (2) Ahmadinejad is a human being, and (3) publicly humiliating a murderous tyrant makes us no different than the tyrant, except maybe for that teensy-weensy distinction between insulting vs. murder. I was thinking maybe you had some better reasons that you just hadn’t articulated in the post. Apparently not.
I also don’t buy the equivalence between Gus Hall and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Hall was a relatively obscure American loser with no political power, no serious prospects of obtaining it, and nothing to lose from even the most unfriendly forum - and therefore, nothing for his enemies to gain by granting it to him. Ahmadinejad is a thug, but he’s also a very powerful thug who could stand to be knocked down a few pegs. Tyrants are rarely dumb enough to hand university administrators a golden opportunity to do that, but Ahmadinejad did, and Bollinger took the opportunity. Good on him for that.
I’m not so sure, xrlq. If we were only dealing with western culture , I would say you’ve probably got something. But my admittedly weak understanding of Arabic culture leads me to believe that that entire situation yesterday was a calculated move on Ahmadinejad’s part, audiences at home. Perhaps all have time later today to explore this in some detail. For the moment, I’ve got to get to work.
But let’s take your statement of face value for a moment, and say Buckley was dead wrong, for the purpose of a question: Because one is wrong once, makes him automatically wrong on all points? he can never again make any pronouncements with any credibility whatever? Or do ideas get taken on as separate entities... separate from their proponents ?
Buckly was a conservative, so he’s always wrong about everything if he was ever wrong about anything.
If he was a leftist, he’d always be right, since he would be expressing a higher truth. Always. For example, when Bill Clinton lies about BJs, he’s actually expresing the greater truth of a right to privacy that’s implied in the Bill of Rights. And when Kerry lies about Xmas in Cambodia or his first Purple Heart, he’s really expressing a deeper truth about the evils of war.
If you don’t, it is probably becuase your conservative brain is reptilian, and consequently lacks empathy, nuance, and so forth.
Bithead, it’s an interesting theory, and certainly one consistent with concerns some of the good guys in Iran are also raising. I don’t believe for a minute, however, that this was Ahmadinejad’s plan. If getting insulted by one’s host was the strategy, why did Iran’s news agency go so far out of its way to cover it up?
Unless Columbia indicated otherwise, I don’t see how what they did could be rationally construed as an ambush. An "ambush" implies some sort of promise of safety or deception about the nature of the invitation.
I’m not aware that Columbia invited him to a criticism-free speech, and - absent that - calling this an "ambush" is absurd.
Are his ideas nothing but barbaric totalitarianism? No, they are contrary to our ideals, and belong more in the 13th century than 21st, IMO, but they reflect Islamic fundamentalist/Khomeinist extremism, and arguably have a twinge of fascism.
But the point is, if you label someone and don’t listen to them, then you can’t really show clearly what their ideas are and why they are bad. You’re left with sound bites and propaganda from both sides. So I’d invite and allow to speak a variety of perspectives and not use invitations as a form of flaunting moral superiority (we’re too good to have the likes of you even speak). Moreover, there is nothing wrong with challenging ideas one finds reprehensible, and giving the person a chance to respond.
I have to admit to a bit of hyperbole. Buckley is not always wrong. He rejected ayn Rand after all, and denounced the John Birchers eventually. And he did realized the Iraq war was lost more than a year ago. And I agree with his sentiment quoted here. I just wish he’d held to it even when the dictators wrapped their crimes in anti-communism.
What’s missing is an understanding of the instrumental power of dialogue.
We live in a culture where you can challenge someone’s ideas - even aggressively - with at least the possibility of it not being a personal insult. That’s a good thing. Even a neccesary one. Aggressive intellecutal dispute, if it leads to genuine changes, is a good substitute for violence.
Basically, it’s a force for social good that Ahamd is confronted with other people’s perspectives. It’s a better way of doing things than invading his country. The Iranian people aren’t stupid. Rumors will get out about how he was challenged here, and about his admission of the existence of the Holocaust.
I appreciate that you gave it serious consideration, though.
The other thing it that the act of refusing to allow someone admission to speak is a more powerful insult than verbalisms. It’s an act of segregation, a higher level of designation of animus. It’s an escalation.
That’s why conservatives were for it. Your analysis doesn’t take that into account, and thus it is flawed. Buckley’s argument that disinviting/turning down his invitation is nicer than insulting him is clever, but not really true.