I would not have invited Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia University today, but now that the invitation has been made it should go ahead. In general, however, I agree entirely with Daniel Larison:
Manifestly, the man’s views are very often ridiculous, and he is a ranting demagogue, an Iranian Huey Long with less common sense. He is, however, a shrewd political operator who knows how play the angles. To give him a forum is to play into his hands and to treat him as the world leader that he would like to pretend to be. It flatters his ego, builds up his reputation around the world and strengthens his hand at home. It makes the task of those who oppose anti-Iranian warmongers at home harder, it helps stoke the fires of Persophobia and it is in itself a colossal blunder on every level. It is quite one thing to argue that Ahmadinejad is a preposterous demagogue whose rantings pose no threat to anyone but his unfortunate listeners and quite another to pretend that Ahmadinejad is just another citizen in the republic of letters and a participant in free-flowing intellectual debate to whom we issue “sharp challenges,” such as: “Dear boy, wouldn’t you reconsider your slightly troubling claims about the Holocaust?”
The problem with inviting Ahmadinejad is revealed by a simple test: would anyone in an academic institution be willing to vouch for a speaker with similar views if he did not come from a country currently being vilified by our government, or if he were a white European?