Revolution #103, October 7, 2007

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“Free Speech” at Columbia—And The Suppression of Real Debate

Everyone was talking about “free speech” last week at Columbia University in New York City. The president of the university had invited Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, to speak. But how were people to get at the truth, when the only positions offered were either the dogma and justification of Islamic theocracy or—in the case of University President Lee Bollinger—an ad hominem attack that parroted the main talking points of the Bush regime’s war propaganda, virtually down the line?

And how unfettered was speech—and how comprehensive was the debate—when the campus paper, the Columbia Spectator, then refused to run a paid ad by World Can’t Wait contesting this utterly false choice—“for fear of losing advertisers”?!? This is really outrageous and intolerable—and quite ominous, in fact. And in a further lurch to outright lockdown-style censorship in this society, the free daily NY Metro also double-talked their way out of a commitment to run the same ad.

Thus was it ensured that the debate would be narrowly constricted. The “marketplace of ideas,” as it worked out in practice, meant that those with power (ultimately resting on capital) dominated the discourse and suppressed viewpoints that challenged their interests. The presenter of the rationale for U.S. imperialism’s “war on terror” on the one hand, and the president of a reactionary Islamic theocracy on the other, went at it,  and the people were told these were their choices. The free and unfettered debate and ferment that people need to get to the truth was constrained in very narrow bounds and outright repressed. And when all was said and done, the overwhelming preponderance of argument and the entire underlying framework into which people were to fit everything they heard was that of U.S. imperialism. And the fact that any challenge at all came out was due to the determined efforts, risks, defiance, and ingenuity of those who insist on a different future…and know they need the truth to forge it.

Neither Bollinger nor Ahmadinejad represents anything but extremely oppressive dead ends. But the truth is that there really IS another way. The lesson is that if you want the truth to get out there, you’re going to have to fight for it.

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