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Harvard’s “Tolerance” for Brutal Dictators

For many years I have argued that America’s intellectuals–those learned people with the greatest ability to understand our virtues and articulate a moral defense of our way of life–have long abandoned America. Another piece of evidence of this betrayal can be found in Harvard University’s decision to have Iran’s former president, Mohammad Khatami, speak before its Kennedy School of Government and give a lecture titled “Ethics of Tolerance in the Age of Violence.”

Khatami’s supporters claim he is a political moderate, yet Khatami’s regime refused to renounce terrorism and Islamic jihad and it slaughtered the leaders of its political opposition. Rather than respect Iranian universities as a forum for the free exchange of ideas, the Khatami regime jailed students who dared to speak out against the theocracy.

David Ellwood, the Harvard dean that invited Khatami has claimed that Khatami’s lecture gives Americans the chance to listen to someone they disagree with and “vigorously challenge” his ideas. He claims that not to invite Khatami to speak would be “to close our ears completely,” yet that is precisely what Americans should do. We should not sanction any illusion that this leader in the Iranian government has anything valuable to contribute to the realm of ideas or the cause of peace, and we should not grant him a platform to communicate his ideas. If Khatami was unwilling to protect freedom of speech at his own county’s universities, why should America grant him a platform to speak at ours?

George Mason University, my alma matter pulled a similar stunt on the eve of the invasion of Iraq. They set up a TV conference with students at an Iraqi university, fully ignoring the fact that these students were either Saddam’s toadies, or in no position to say anything critical of the regime. Thankfully, several of the students invited to participate on our end refused on the grounds that their mere presence would sanction a burial regime and grant our enemies the pretense that we could have an intellectual conversation with them. Hopefully Harvard’s students will have the same sense of justice.

Nevertheless, is the Khatami invite a new low for Harvard and America’s intellectuals? Appallingly, the answer is “yes.”

Cartoon by Cox and Forkum.