Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The battle for "free speech"

After Ahmadinejad's controversial appearance at Columbia, George Bush has now been invited to speak at Mashhad-based Ferdowsi University. The White House has dismissed the offer, saying it would have considered it if Iran allowed freedom of expression, did not have nuclear ambitions and did not threaten Israel. Such a spoilsport! Too bad we are missing out on what would have otherwise been a lip-smacking encounter between Iranian students and "war criminal" Bush. I doubt if he even has, to use Lee Bollinger's phrase, the "intellectual courage" to take questions from a free gathering of students in countries that are run by American proteges such as Egypt and Pakistan. Only if Lee Bollinger now coaxes his president to defend the ideals of free speech that his country stands for!

Taking about American leaders speaking at universities abroad, Condoleezza Rice in February 2005 lectured on American foreign policy and trans-Atlantic ties at Sciences Po in Paris (where I studied). Not only were a handful of students allowed in the auditorium, even the questions were vetted by the State Department. Benjamin Barnier, a student at the school, had one of his questions struck off the list. It asked what the US administration could do to improve Bush's image in the world, particularly in West Asia. Instead, he got to ask something about the possibility of a Shiite theocracy in Iraq. If only the American administration practised what Bollinger so fanatically preaches...


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