Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a bad and dangerous man, but it seems that Columbia was quite right to have him speak there as part of its World Leaders Forum. Columbia students can benefit from hearing bad world leaders as well as good ones; I'm pretty confident that most of the students in the audience will be able to tell one from the other — and if they're not, then the event offers a great opportunity for them to do so.
If the event were some special honor for the person — as endowed lectures, "visiting public interest mentor" positions, graduation speeches, and the like often are — I would take a different view: A university should not honor the dishonorable. But my sense is that the World Leaders Forum does not carry the university's endorsement of the speaker's moral character, only of his significance on the world stage (which Ahmadinejad regrettably has plenty of).
Incidentally, the blog reports about Ahmadinejad's talk — which I read after I decided to post this — reinforce my view on the subject. It looks like Columbia President Bollinger has forcefully expressed his disagreement with Ahmadinejad, thus reminding people that the invitation didn't constitute endorsement of Ahmadinejad's beliefs.
This may be one of the I realize my friend and coblogger David Bernstein might disagree with me on this, but experienced Volokh Conspiracy readers know that such amicable inter-blogger disagreements happen on occasion.
If Hitler were in the United States and he wanted a platform from which to speak he would have plenty of platforms to speak from in the United States. If he were willing to engage in a debate and a discussion, to be challenged by Columbia students and faculty, we would certainly invite him.
That seems to me to be an entirely correct attitude. Presumably the discussion here is of the pre-Dec. 1941 Hitler (I take it that he wouldn't have been in the U.S. after war between Germany and the U.S. had been declared). Americans were trying to figure out what to do about Nazi Germany. Hitler indeed would have had lots of opportunities to give propaganda speeches. But if Columbia had an opportunity to help its students see and hear Hitler in person, and hear how he dealt with probing and hostile questions -- such as the questions that Bollinger seems to have addressed to Ahmadinejad -- it seems to me that this would have been a valuable service to Columbia students, and perhaps to the American public more broadly.
Related Posts (on one page):