A Columbia student asked how he could effectively protest his university's invitation to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak Monday. My first response was to suggest petitions, e-mails to President Bollinger and the university trustees, letters to the student paper, peaceful protest, and the like. All these are fine. But then I had a second thought. There might be one form of protest that would be effective both in showing appropriate disgust for the Iranian regime, and in shaming the Columbia administration: A total student boycott of Ahmadinejad's speech. Let the Iranian president (and the Columbia president) look out on, and speak to, a sea of empty seats on Monday.
The rationale for a student boycott is simple: The Iranian government is directly involved in killing and wounding American soldiers in Iraq. As a gesture of elementary solidarity with those serving our nation in the military--young men and women, many of them their exact contemporaries--Columbia students should refuse to dignify Ahmadinejad's talk by attending it. Needless to say, Columbia faculty and administrators shouldn't attend either. Some of them will. But this is a chance for the 9/11 generation to show a decency and a sense of honor that some of their elders lack. After all, this is not primarily about Ahmadinejad. Dealing with his regime is mostly a task for our government. This is about us. Columbia students have a chance to shame their elders, redeem the good name of their institution, and make many Americans proud. I urge them to take it.