“Listen, And Ask Questions”

Salil Tripathi writes:

A week ago, slogan-shouting students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), opposing American “imperialist” policies, succeeded in preventing the US assistant secretary of state, Richard Boucher, from speaking at the campus about Indo-American relations.

In the grand narrative of the Indian Left, this might go down as a major victory, even if it was entirely pyrrhic. Their symbolic act will not make an iota of difference to US foreign policy. Instead of taking on the US diplomat intellectually, the Leftists behaved like Mao’s finest cadres during the so-called Cultural Revolution. […]

Contrast the Leftists’ juvenile performance with the way an American university dealt with a speaker it had no sympathy for. In September last year, Columbia University invited Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at its World Leaders Forum. Ahmadinejad not only denies the Holocaust, his regime has been intolerant of gays, dissidents, and has restricted women’s rights. Columbia faced pressure from local and national political leaders, including a few Jewish groups, not to invite Ahmadinejad.

Instead, Columbia went ahead, and its feisty president, Lee C. Bollinger, gave a startling address, where he stressed that universities should be committed to the pursuit of truth. They do not have the power to make war or peace. But they can listen, and ask questions.

Read the full piece. Lest Lefties think that Salil has a special fondness for them, let me assure you that he brings up the Hindutva Right later in the piece—their behaviour during the Baroda controversy was no better.

And really, what is it that so much of the politics in our country, even in the non-political space, consists of demeaning the other side instead of trying to have an honest argument? My friend Peter Griffin once told me something that I wish was a commonplace sentiment (I quote from memory): “Speak as if you are right; listen as if you are wrong.”

Conviction is not scarce in India, or in the blogosphere; humility certainly is.