While I'm not particularly perturbed by his show at Columbia University (see previous post), I'm sceptical about the point of it all. The underlying assumption of many of the defenders of his being invited to speak at such an august university is that dialogue is important - even, perhaps, crucial to the avoidance of violence. This assumption, however, makes sense only if there is enough common ground between the discussants for them to be able to relate to one another. In reality, this common ground hardly even exists - or more accurately: it often doesn't exist - between people much closer to one another than Ahmmadinejad and his Western audience.
Two days ago I rasied this issue in a post titled "The End of Rational Discourse?". As an example I cited a German Blog with a Hebrew title, Shual. Sure enough, as happens with these things, Mr Shual (no real name given) came by to see who I am... and left a series of comments, mostly in German. If your German isn't very good, you won't be able to understand him, since he writes in a style that is nigh-unintelligible even by German standards, but at the end of it all, his seems to be the mind of a conspiracy theorist. And try as I might, I can see no way to connect my cognitive processses to his, even though we probably agree on most of the basics such as the mechanisms of a free society, an agreement we do not share with President Ahmadinejad nor with many millions of the people who share his cultural and epistemologial world.
Have I mentioned Prof. Juan Cole, of Michgan University? I intend soon to post here an ongoing correspondence between us. Belive me, there seems hardly any way we'll ever be able to discuss our differences away.
But, we are assured, engaging with the Ayatollahs will definately be successful, if only we are nice enough, understanding enough, contrite enough for our crimes, and so on.