Ahmadinejad's agenda ... is not merely to hold power in Iran through sheer force, or even through a standard 20th-century personality cult. His goal is to undermine the American and Western democracy rhetoric that poses an ideological threat to the Iranian regime. Last winter, when he invited a host of dubious Holocaust-deniers to discuss the Holocaust in Tehran, he claimed it was in order to provide shelter for the West's "dissidents"—that is, for Western thinkers "who cannot express their views freely in Europe about the Holocaust." ... Thus, the speech at Columbia: Here he is, the allegedly undemocratic Ahmadinejad, taking questions from students! At an American university! Look who's the real democrat now!Applebaum goes on to write that Columbia didn't need to provide him with a platform, but having invited him, would only make things worse by retracting the invitation. Instead,
the university should have demanded genuine reciprocity. If the president and dean of Columbia truly believed in an open exchange of ideas, they should have presented Ahmadinejad with an Iranian dissident or human-rights activist to debate—someone from his own culture who could argue with him in his own language—instead of allowing him to be filmed on a podium with important-looking Americans. Perhaps Columbia could even have insisted on an appropriate exchange: Ahmadinejad speaks in New York, Columbia sends a leading Western atheist—Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, or, better still, Ayaan Hirsi Ali—to Qum, the Shiite holy city, to debate the mullahs on their own ground.Go read the whole thing in Slate. It's worth your time.