Manners or morals?

This week’s visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to New York City has received more publicity than the visits of most other foreign leaders. Columbia University invited President Ahmadinejad to speak on campus, but apparently has had a difficulty time deciding how to treat him. According to the New York Times, the Iranian president’s visit has caused a furor among students, faculty and alumni, as well as the general public. At issue is not only Ahmadinejad’s willingness to appear and to answer, or evade, students’ questions, but also the way in which the president of Columbia introduced the speaker. Instead of the usually polite listings of a visitor’s achievements, President Lee Bolinger, chose to attack several statement made by Ahmadinejad about Israel, the Holocaust, and nuclear weapons. Was it a good choice to confront a visitor this way? This is not always an easy question to answer. Any civic group, such as the League, which is committed to airing all sides of an issue finds itself confronting points of view that are offensive to many. When can we decide that a person’s point of view is so offensive we will not publicize it through forums or discussions? It is easy to be a bystander to another group’s struggle with this issue, but not so easy to make decisions locally. That is why it is worth studying the reactions to Columbia University’s stand and thinking about the morality as well as the manners suitable to such an occasion.

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