Yesterday Dean Lisa Anderson told me she had invited the President of Iran to speak at the University tomorrow, Friday.
As of this morning, we were not able to ever establish a conversation with the Iranian Embassy that would ensure to my satisfaction that the specific arrangements of any such program would reflect the academic values that are the hallmark of a University event such as our World Leaders Forum.
But as the Dean of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, Dean Anderson has the right and responsibility to invite speakers whom she believes will add to the academic experience of our students. My office conveyed to Dean Anderson’s that the University would support SIPA if the school wanted to finalize and host such an event tomorrow. She announced earlier today that the event will not take place.
I said last night as this story developed that I find President Ahmadinejad’s stated beliefs to be repugnant, a view that I’m sure is widely shared within our university community. I have no doubt that Columbia students and faculty would use a truly open exchange to challenge President Ahmadinejad sharply and are fully capable of reaching their own independent conclusions about his claims.
Let me also repeat from my earlier statement today my core belief that the example of freedom we set here in the United States , and especially at American universities, is the greatest long-term threat to the current Iranian leadership and most powerful weapon against such fundamentalist regimes. From what I understand, most Iranian students would dearly love the kind of freedom American students have to live, learn, and publicly challenge both their own government and foreign leaders in forums like ours.
Freedom to speak, pursue ideas, and even to hear and evaluate viewpoints totally objectionable to our own is central to America ’s greatness. It is also an essential value of our universities and, indeed, of our civil society.
We are not afraid of words from the likes of President Ahmadinejad. We are in the business of finding facts and exposing darkness to light. And I do not believe President Ahmadinejad’s patently false claims about history, about the undeniable fact and horror of the Holocaust in the murder of innocent millions, and his own government’s policies in the world, will be seen as anything but absurd.
Had President Ahmadinejad indeed come to SIPA on Erev Rosh Ha Shana, he would have achieved no propaganda victory for hard-line Iranian policies on nuclear programs, or Israel ’s fundamental right to exist, or his own historically preposterous views. Instead, his appearance would have exposed his testimony to the kind of cross examination that we in our country and in our universities know is the surest path to truth and the surest safeguard of freedom.