Monday, September 24, 2007

Idle threat of the week

You'd be hard pressed to find a historical figure that looms larger in the world of analogies and hypothetical situations than Adolf Hitler. Hitler was in the news again last week when -- in response to the flap over Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaking at his university -- the Dean of Columbia volunteered that Hitler would also be welcome to "debate" at Columbia if he happened to be already coming to America.

Duh. If Hitler were to show up in the United States he'd be 119 and back in the limelight after 60 plus years of "death." If he couldn't make the season's speaker series nobody could.

I kid, but that context is important. Hitler -- and what Hitler has come to represent -- was probably a product of his time, and is certainly understood and properly condemned with the perspective of the wisdom time allows us.

Anytime I hear something about Hitler -- whether it is to compare Ahmadinejad to Hitler or to justify inviting Ahmaindejad to speak by evoking Hitler -- I think to myself somebody needs cut the hyperbole and find a better way of making their point. Or that maybe they don't have much a point.

I have no problem with Columbia taking the stance that all opinions -- including what I'm sure will be the heavily self-filtered opinions of Iranian President/spokesman Ahmadinejad -- should be allowed a venue. And that it is the job of the student body and faculty to agree with, dispute and debate what they have heard.

It's just too bad in other instances the same University does infantilize its students by playing politics with who is allowed access to them: For example Columbia bans military recruiters on campus. Even though there is a war taking place and, at issue, is that not enough of the kind of "elite" young people Columbia caters to are joining the armed forces

The Dean of Columbia claims he would allow the long dead Hitler to speak, but do you really think he would do the same for Hitler's real life flesh and blood neo-nazi heirs? I could be wrong about this, but I suspect it would be easier for the President of Iran to get a high profile speaker slot at Columbia University than it would for a fellow controversial, but pertinent, figure like Donald Rumsfeld -- or even Dick Cheney.

Which is Columbia's right, as a private institution. But for trying to resurrect Adolf Hitler -- who ain't coming back -- Columbia wins the Idle Threat of the Week for September 17-23.

This talk of Adolf Hitler coming to America and speaking reminds me of line from the Clash's White Man in Hammersmith: "If Adolf Hitler flew in today they'd send a limousine anyway."

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