The Ahmadinejad Follies

From the LA Times, via Chris Suellentrop:

These critics not only disrespect such core American principles as academic freedom and freedom of speech, they disrespect the intelligence of Ahmadinejad’s audience. It isn’t likely that many were swayed by his wild-eyed questioning of the facts of the Holocaust or who was really behind the 9/11 attacks. The biggest laugh of the afternoon came when, in response to a question about the Iranian regime’s brutal treatment of homosexuals (a crime punishable by death), Ahmadinejad remarked, “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.” He also declared that “women in Iran have the highest level of freedom” even though they are forbidden from such basic social activities as attending soccer games, and said “we are friends with the Jewish people” while attributing nearly all the world’s ills to Jews. It’s hard to believe that anyone with a third-grade education would find him convincing.

In 1939, a journalist named Alan Cranston was outraged by a sanitized English-language translation of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” so he edited his own abridged version that bared the German dictator’s sinister soul. Cranston, who later became California’s longest-serving Democratic senator, understood something that Obama, Romney, McConnell et al do not: The best way to discredit a tyrant is to let him do it himself, in his own poisonous words.

This is astonishingly dumb. As Matt says, "free speech" is not at stake in a private university's decision to invite speakers to address its student body. Nor, I hope, was anyone who opposed the Iranian President's appearance seriously worried that he was going to convert his Ivy League audience to Shi'a radicalism. But just because a bunch of Columbia students found him ridiculous doesn't mean that everybody else did - and it's the "everybody else" that he was playing to.

And yes, of course one shouldn't censor the rantings of a tyrant to make him sound moderate. But the notion that "the best way to discredit a tyrant is to let him do it himself, in his own poisonous words" is just pious nonsense untouched by experience. A dictator's "poisonous words" are quite often the source of his strength, not a chink in his armor; so it was with Hitler, and so it is (albeit to a far, far lesser extent) with Iran's dinner-theater demagogue. Alan Cranston's more-accurate translation of Mein Kampf was an admirable contribution to the West's understanding of the Nazi regime, no doubt, but if I recall my history right, it didn't exactly bring Hitlerism to its knees.