Sunday, September 23, 2007

Are ideas dangerous?

At what point do ideas become dangerous?

I've been listening to plenty of news reports this morning about the protests against Columbia University for allowing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, to speak to students today.

My immediate reaction is to be rather suspicious of people who would find his viewpoints so frightening that they believe he should be silenced. Are they afraid he'll win converts?

I might not agree with everything he says. In fact, I know very little of what he says. Anyone who says the Holocaust never happened is a few fries short of a Happy Meal and I stop listening.

Still, the purpose of education is to know how to process ideas. It is about critical thinking. It's about listening to many points of view and evaluating them on their merit or lack thereof.

Silencing someone because he has controversial beliefs strikes me as the wrong way to handle it. I believe he should be allowed to speak, to be questioned and students can then decide for themselves what they believe.

How about you? Do you think he should be allowed to speak?


heartinsanfrancisco said...

Yes. If we tout freedom of speech as one of the benefits of our democracy, we cannot then deny it to others.

It should be understood that views expressed by a guest of a university do not necessarily represent the views of the university, if an entity as large and diverse as a university could be said to have "a view."

Columbia has a long history of allowing dissidents to speak. Mario Savio of the Free Speech Movement spoke there to huge audiences in 1960.

I agree that it would be insensitive to allow Ahmadinejad to visit Ground Zero, though, as it has become an American shrine and he would probably be honoring the hijackers and not the victims.

flutter said...

He can speak all he wants, I wouldn't be going to see him.

Paul said...

You raise a good question. On the one hand, he is president of his country, and one the US government is at odds with at that. On the other hand he seems highly delusional with dangerous ideas of how the world is and should be.

Maybe we shouldn't let any highly delusional president with dangerous ideas speak.

But how would we ever get more than one view of the world if we limit our sources of viewpoints?

I say, let him have his say.

Tabba said...

I believe he should be able to speak. Absolutely.
But given the "Big Brother" times that we live in today, I can see why it is being made into a big deal.

Anonymous said...

Have you read what Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, had to say about it? (I should warn you the language is rather coarse.) LINK

I get the impression that Ahmadinejad is trying to prevent a war, but the Republicans and the media will have none of it. They've already judged him as "evil," so in their minds there's nothing left to say.

Emily said...

He should be allowed to speak, but Columbia students have a right to say they don't want their tuition dollars going to pay for his flight or his hotel or his speaker's fee or even the extra security needed for him to be there.

painted maypole said...

you know, I struggle with this... because having the right to speak is different than, as Emily points out, choosing to pay him and give him a platform to speak. I would not agree with silencing, but I'm not sure I agree with giving him the platform, either. I wonder how it was all approached, and how it is being "marketed," and what the university has to say about why he is coming to speak.

I do think that we need to hear different points of view.

MsLittlePea said...

I, like you, think he's more than a little off and I'd pull all my teeth out before defending him. But people should be able to choose for themselves whether they want to listen to what he has to say or not. I don't like other people making decisions for me. I don't want a government to be my 'daddy' to tell me who I can hear speak and who I can't. And I don't want a government that thinks so little of its citizens' ability to think for themselves as to censor those they disagree with...then again sometimes it seems that way doesn't it.

Although, I agree with Heart, I don't think he should be allowed to visit Ground Zero either.

slouching mom said...

Of course he should be allowed to speak, just as neo-Nazis were allowed to demonstrate in Skokie some years ago. Unfortunate, but free speech extends to all.

HOWEVER. He should not be allowed to visit the memorial at the WTC. That dishonors the victims, given that he has consistently offered state support of terrorist factions.

Snoskred said...

Perhaps visiting the WTC site would actually change his mind on terrorism. We'll never know, because they will never allow it. ;(

I believe that people can and do change, if we give them the opportunity to do so.

That sunny day in September changed all of us in various ways. How do we know it didn't change him in ways we are not aware of too?


Christine said...

he should speak. but i would never listen to him.

capacious said...

Free speech is the wonderful thing about our country. Speak away, you nasty man.

Janet said...

He should have the option to speak, just as those attending have the option of whether or not they want to be there.

Lex said...

He should be allowed to speak. I think America needs to have its ideals challenged publicly like this. I think far too often we want free speech to mean non-offensive speech. Someone can find offense in any speech if they look hard enough.

I also think he should be allowed to visit ground zero. I don't disagree that he might be honoring the terrorists, but since when do we ban people from public places just because their ideas about what happened there differ with our own? Would we ban him from visiting the Holocaust Memorial? Do I think it's disgraceful, disrespectful and abhorrent to go there and honor the terrorists? Of course. Does that mean he should be allowed to? I don't think so.

I want the enemy to show his true colors.

jen said...

I absolutely feel he should be allowed to speak.

Pam said...

I most certainly agree with you. And it's advantageous to know your enemy.

Cecilieaux said...

Put me down with the pro-speech. But I'm intrigued by Scott Adams, is he on the level or is he satirizing a point of view. Consider the following sentence:

"If you let a guy like that express his views, before long the entire world will want freedom of speech."

It's so nonsensical that it has to be a joke. Poorly formed, a little too obscure and perhaps too close to reality to be funny,

Anonymous said...

Of course "they" are afraid he may be compelling enough to buy into his spiel since the masses were dumb enough to buy into "thier" spiel. Freedom of speech only means we won't be beheaded for speaking against our govt.
as for should he speak? Who is paying him? Why would anyone want to listen? I don't care really if he speaks, I would hope the students at Columbia would be bright enough to filter what he has to say appropriately.

crazymumma said...

Absolutely he should be allowed to speak. Not that I would agree with what he is saying.

But education is about learning how to think, how to be critical. How to make decisions.

Its a fundamental human right.

(I'll be back in a couple days to catch up on all your other posts...currently swamped)

crazymumma said...

Absolutely he should be allowed to speak. Not that I would agree with what he is saying.

But education is about learning how to think, how to be critical. How to make decisions.

Its a fundamental human right.

(I'll be back in a couple days to catch up on all your other posts...currently swamped)

Bob said...

yes, he should be allowed to speak - that shouldn't even be a question in a nation that values free speech.

if we don't listen to him, how will we ever be able to understand him and be able to reach an accord with him and his nation? listening doesn't mean agreement. we've already seen what happens when people avoid speaking and move on to military action.

and as an aside, I understand he has limited power to make things happen within Iran - the mullahs (ayatollahs) have most of the authority.

I am curious as to what he will say. I read the text of the letter he sent to Bush a while back and wasn't converted to shiaism, I think I can stand to hear what he'll say this time with my critical facilities intact.

if more people listened then maybe there'd be more understanding in the world.

Ian Lidster said...

This one's a real connundrum, isn't it? I mean, on the one hand, universities are meant to be bastions of free thought, but on the other hand the guy is not only certifiable, he's also potentially extremely dangerous. So, I wrestle with it, as do you.
Meanwhile, thank you for visiting my blog and glad I came to visit yours, and will come back again. I'd also like to add you to my list, if OK.

Open Grove Claudia said...

I think he cannot be underestimated. He is wicked smart and has an understanding of his world that we do not have.

Peace in the middle east is dependent on this new era of western educated men such as Ahmanadinejad, Prince Zeid and King Abdallah II. They are doing amazing things in the short time they have been in power.

WE educated these men. If we don't listen to them then we are simply stupid.

They are the future.

Not that I have an opinion or anything! ;)

Molly said...

Enough of what we hear of what is going on in the world and who is saying what to whom is already filtered through the media. Free speech is one of the amazing things about this country. As someone said here--you won't get your head chopped off for expressing your opinions [of course you might be tased, like Andrew Meyer!]. I think it would be a great opportunity for students at Columbia to hear him speak in person, rather than read someone's interpretation of what he said, in the papers. He may not be our favourite guy, but they are there to get an education, to learn to think for themselves, to listen to the beliefs and ideas of others, and then to go away and think about them and form their own opinions...

QT said...

I absolutely think he should be allowed to speak if someone is providing a forum.

I, too, wrestle with not letting him go to Ground Zero. I think he would be going there for the wrong reasons, sure, but I agree with lex - what is the standard? I feel like usually if you give a person enough rope, they will hang themselves.

The thought of him going there does sicken me, tho.

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