Universities and tolerance

THE KENNEDY SCHOOL of Government at Harvard University should not cancel the scheduled speech by former president Mohammad Khatami of Iran. Universities must never submit to censorial pressures by individuals or groups that disagree with, or are deeply offended by, a speaker's ideas.

{josquote}I'm eager to hear Khatami's explanation for his and his country's treatment of women, homosexuals, secularists, Baha'i, and student reformers. And I am confident that Harvard's student body will have the courage to ask Khatami the sorts of questions that mainstream media interviewers have either avoided or have let Khatami evade with empty platitudes.{/josquote}

This does not mean that those who invited Khatami to deliver a lecture on the "Ethics of Tolerance in the Age of Violence"—a subject on which, based on his lifetime of intolerance, he has nothing to contribute—made a wise decision. Would they have invited David Duke to lecture on racial harmony or the late Meir Kahane to educate our students on the proper way to protest? I doubt it.

Khatami is somewhat different, of course, having been president of Iran (whatever that means ). But he is no longer in a position to influence Iranian policy or to answer hard questions about, for example, Iran's current nuclear program or its latest purge of secular faculty members. He could, perhaps, explain why the ``ethics of tolerance" did not inspire him to do anything when hundreds of dissident students were arrested and tortured during his tenure.

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