“Scholars” and students at Sapienza University of Rome have so vociferously objected to the Pope speaking there because they disagree with the fact that, 20 years ago, he gave a speech that seemed to support the medieval Church’s silencing of Galileo that the Pope has felt compelled to cancel. The WSJ has the matter just right:
The censoring scholars apparently failed to appreciate the irony that, in preventing the pope from speaking, they were doing to him what the Church once did to Galileo, stifling free speech and intellectual inquiry.
In other words, as do the WSJ editors, I think the University’s conduct is antithetical to free speech and an embarrassment to any institution of learning.
Having said that, I also thought it was appalling that Columbia invited Ahmadinejad to speak there. One could argue that my position in that regard is no better than the behavior on display at Sapienza, as it tries to shut down the Pope. “Let the man speak” should apply to one, as well as the other, right?
But I do think that there is a difference between someone who lacks temporal power and who is speaking about the world of ideas — and who is being pilloried for acts his institution took hundreds of years ago — and someone who heads a government that advocates genocide, the torture and murder of gays and nonconforming women, and the complete stifling of any free speech (and the use of torture and murder to achieve those ends). In other words, I think that Ahmadinejad, by doing what he does, especially stifling all dissent and demanding genocide, has forfeited his right to use America’s speech institutions as a forum to explain, lie about, white wash or do anything else to advance his ideas, atittudes, positions or conduct.
What do you all think? Why are we justified in castigating one situation in which speech is being denied, yet demanding the denial of speech in a different situation?
UPDATE: Thanks to all who noted that the University didn’t cancel the Pope; he canceled the appearance himself after a threatened boycott. That error is typical for what happens when I try to blog in the minutes before going to the bus stop to meet the kids. My apologies and, as you’ve seen, I’ve corrected the post.