Talking with tyrants

Mark Steyn:

"I'm proud of my university today," Stina Reksten, a 28-year-old Columbia graduate student from Norway, told the New York Times. "I don't want to confuse the very dire human rights situation in Iran with the issue here, which is freedom of speech. This is about academic freedom."

Isn't it always? But enough about Iran, let's talk about me! The same university that shouted down an American anti-illegal-immigration activist and the same university culture that just deemed former Harvard honcho Larry Summers too misogynist to be permitted on campus is now congratulating itself over its commitment to "academic freedom." True, renowned Stanford psychology professor Philip Zimbardo is not happy. "They can have any fascist they want there," said professor Zimbardo, "but this seems egregious." But, hey, don't worry: He was protesting not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presence at Columbia but Donald Rumsfeld's presence at the Hoover Institution.

At some point during this past week, it was decided that the relevant Ahmadinejad comparison was to Nikita Krushchev. The Soviet leader toured America in 1960, was taken to a turkey farm, paid a visit to Frank Sinatra and Co. on the set of "Can-Can" and pronounced the movie "decadent." And yet the republic survived. As one of my most distinguished fellow columnists, Peggy Noonan, put it in the Wall Street Journal, Krushchev's visit reminded the world that "we are the confident nation." And, as several e-mailers observed, warming to Noonan's theme, back then hysterical right-wing ninnies didn't get their panties in a twist just because a man dedicated to the destruction of our way of life was in town for a couple of days.

Whether or not this was a more "confident" nation in 1960, it's certainly a more post-modern nation now. I don't know whether Stina Reksten, as a 28-year old Norwegian, can be held up as an exemplar of American youth, but she certainly seems to have mastered the lingo: We've invited the president of Iran to speak but let's not confuse "the very dire human-rights situation" – or his nuclear program, or his Holocaust denial, or his role in the seizing of the U.S. Embassy hostages, or his government's role in the deaths of American troops and Iraqi civilians – with the more important business of applauding ourselves for our celebration of "academic freedom."

So much of contemporary life is about opportunities for self-congratulation. Risk-free dissent is the default mode of our culture, and extremely seductive. If dissent means refusing to let the Bush administration bully you into wearing a flag lapel pin, why, then Katie Couric (bravely speaking out on this issue just last week) is the new Mandela! If Rumsfeld is a "fascist." then anyone can fight fascism. It's no longer about the secret police kicking your door down and clubbing you to a pulp. Well, OK, it is if you're a Buddhist monk in Burma. But they're a long way away, and it's all a bit complicated and foreign, and let's not "confuse the very dire human rights situation" in Hoogivsastan with an opportunity to celebrate our courage in defending "academic freedom" in America. Ahmadinejad must occasionally have felt he was appearing in a matinee of "A Chance To Hear [Insert Name Of Enemy Head Of State Here]." Could have been Chavez, could have been Mullah Omar, could have been Herr ReichsfuhrerHitler himself, as Columbia's Dean John Coatsworth proudly boasted on television.

...

It does not take courage to debate a mental cripple like Ahmadinejad, especially when you control the podium. It would take courage for people on the left to listen to and debate on the issues people like the anti illegal immigration advocate or someone like Donald Rumsfeld who could destroy their facade of reason in a debate. What the event has shown is that liberals are mostly cowardly hypocrites. The event also demonstrates the way liberals substitute talk for action. As long as they are talking there is no need to do anything.

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