Tag Archives: Free Speech

After the Election: Trump, Clinton, and the Death of Dialogue

No matter which candidate wins tonight’s presidential election, the American people have already lost. This isn’t because both Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump are poor choices; as I have written before, I think Secretary Clinton would make an excellent president. Rather, the American people are losing because we’ve lost the ability to communicate with each other

It is easier than ever today to entomb oneself in an echo chamber. Schools today are more homogeneous than ever, social media allows for the selective consumption of news, and political gerrymandering has created an environment in which likeminded individuals are lumped together in the same congressional district. In our society, there are now far fewer places in which dialogue between differently minded groups can occur and our dysfunctional schools, bottom-line-focused media, and politically drawn legislative districts exacerbate this trend. Trump supporters and Clinton supporters no longer have access to fora in which they can communicate with each other; instead Trump supporters instinctively distrust all things Clinton and Clinton supporters condescend to all things Trump, including his supporters. Have you recently had a respectful conversation with someone who supports a candidate other than your own? American politics has always been rancorous, but this death of dialogue has created a new level of polarization.

Polarization has also gridlocked our legislature—the most recently completed 113th Congress was the second-least productive in history, second only to the 112th Congress. And as our legislative branch has been crippled, the presidency has been endowed with unprecedented levels of power. The president can now effectively unilaterally declare war thanks to the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), can effectively enact treaties with a simple majority vote in the Senate rather than having to cobble together a supermajority thanks to the rise and acceptance of so-called congressional-executive agreements, and can wantonly choose which laws to enforce due to lax applications of the Constitution’s Take Care Clause.

This inflation of presidential powers has only served to further exacerbate the polarization in the country. Suddenly, a President Trump could by himself decide to send troops into Syria thanks to the AUMF or withdraw from NAFTA without congressional approval since it’s a congressional-executive agreement and not a treaty. A President Clinton could decide to cease all deportation immediately now that the Constitution’s Take Care Clause is no longer enforced. With so much power endowed to one individual, voters can no longer risk listening to and electing someone who doesn’t share their party line.

So how can this polarization be overcome? The only way forward is to repair basic American institutions so that they promote dialogue between those of differing views. First, colleges should try to enroll politically diverse student bodies and actively promote civic discussion among them, not focus all of their attention onto the proliferation of safe spaces. As a liberal college student myself, I was drawn to write for this publication because of the diversity of political and social views that are professed in its articles and the dialogue it fosters on campus, despite the fact that said dialogue can get rather heated at times. The drawing of electoral districts should be delegated to independent committees. Social media should change their algorithms so that users aren’t just fed articles with which they already agree. And people should reflect on the tone of this election and think about how they could have made it just a little less nasty through proactive engagement. Once this occurs, polarization will return to previous levels, the legislature will once again become vibrant and again become a check on the executive office, which will in turn serve to further decrease polarization as presidential elections become less important and thus less nasty. We didn’t accomplish this in time for this election cycle, but hopefully the sheer vitriol of this race will serve as a wakeup call before the next one.

Safe Spaces: Where Free Press Dies

It is unbelievable how freedom of the press, a right our Founding Fathers so cherished, has eroded in a country that prides itself on its liberties. It is unbelievable how the right to cover an open event, which freedom of the press entails, cannot be practiced on college campuses.

Last week, while trying to cover an open event discussing the role of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (API) community in the Black Lives Matter movement, hosted by Pomona College’s Asian American Resource Center (AARC)—which considers itself a “safe space”—I uncovered the sad state of free press at Pomona College. I was hoping to objectively cover this event, to bring out the little-known viewpoints of the API community on the Black Lives Matter movement. This hope was greeted by resentment and hostility, and I left with one message: Freedom of the press does not belong, and is not welcome, in safe spaces.

The process of stifling free press begins right as a journalist walks through the doors into the safe space. While I was initially welcomed when I asked if I could record the event and take notes, further questioning revealed I was trying to cover the event for a student-run publication. Even then, the event facilitators extended their warm welcome, until it was brought to light that this student-run publication was The Claremont Independent, a conservative-leaning paper. No more warm welcome and no more recording allowed, but I was still permitted to take notes.

The death blow of free press in this “safe space” struck later, when I started to take notes on my laptop just as the event began. As I finished typing my second line of notes, I was informed that note-taking would only be permitted if it was approved by all participants of the event—if even one participant objected to my note-taking, I would not be allowed to take notes. Unsurprisingly, after a blindfold vote, at least one person voted against note-taking, and I was told to stop taking notes. I was told that taking notes made participants uncomfortable, and that I should respect the AARC as a “safe space.” In a subsequent meeting with the director of AARC, I was told the AARC functions primarily as a “safe space” where participants should feel comfortable, and that people’s fears and concerns of an Independent journalist taking notes should be respected in this safe space, adding that the AARC does not want its views advertised to an audience the Independent could reach.

Despite making it clear that speech at this event should make all participants comfortable, attacks on capitalism and “capitalist violence,” the “heteropatriarchal” society, and traits of the “model minority” (like working hard and obeying the law) were left unchecked, without the slightest consideration of whether I, with differing political views, would feel comfortable listening to endless assaults to values which I hold dear. Yet with free press dead, who dares challenge this hypocrisy?

In the college campus “safe space,” with no freedom of the press, there is no check on the lack of ideological diversity, no way for “safe spaces” to promote their messages through an objective third party, and no way for the public to know about and effectively help pressure and protest against the hypocritical “inclusiveness” of safe spaces.

Free press is the restraint that keeps “safe spaces” from becoming “hate spaces” that do not fear whether the stifling of differing views, the silencing of people from different parts of the political spectrum, and the venting and promotion of anger towards certain groups of people, will ever be exposed to and critiqued by the public, where there is no fear whether the public will pressure them to change. Because, without the restraint of free press on safe spaces, the public will simply never know.

Unless safe spaces are made accessible to the free press, journalists need to abide by a new rule concerning reporting in safe spaces: Don’t try. Yet I remain confident, and hopeful, that through the efforts of those who act to uphold our Founding Fathers’ values on college campuses, the rule for journalists will be “Dare to try. Dare to uphold and defend the diversity of opinion, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press.”

Editorial: The Importance of Free Expression

Free speech on campus has become a growing issue in the US and internationally as traditionally freer countries place more and more restrictions on speech. As students and journalists at the Claremont Colleges, we have seen the negative repercussions of this trend firsthand—in our classrooms, jobs, places of worship, and even in our coffee shops.

It’s sad what this culture has cost the colleges. We live in a community of bright, engaged students, but fear of radical left wing retribution too often stifles conversations before they start. We are fortunate to study under great professors but, going forward, the quality of many of our tenured faculty will be subject to how well a given professor fits into the Social Justice Warrior mold. Even our peers’ charitable efforts fall prey to the expanding reach of political correctness.

It’s our job as students to shape the community here on campus, but the administration has the power to set the tone and step in when our peers or teachers abuse their power. Too often, our administrations are compliant or even complicit in the destruction of our community’s cohesion and intellectual growth.

Yet last Thursday, President Chodosh and Dean Uvin stood up in favor of our rights in an email released to Claremont McKenna College’s student body and alumni. The email outlined the administration’s commitment to protecting free speech on campus, both inside and outside the classroom. By defending students’ and faculty members’ right to think and speak freely, Claremont McKenna College’s administration has made an important pivot away from the increasingly sensitive culture of censorship and toward a more positive academic community. This will serve students well both in Claremont and outside the bubble.

CMC’s announcement is a strong first step, and we’re hopeful that the administration will take this policy seriously in order to provide students with a well-rounded intellectual environment. We now call on the administrations at Pitzer College, Scripps College, Pomona College, and Harvey Mudd College to adopt the University of Chicago’s policies on speech as well. The Claremont Colleges have a great capacity to influence the world around us, but that can’t happen unless we are allowed to grow as thinkers and as people. We cannot overstate the importance of free expression on campus. Without it, education is impossible.

Steven Glick, Editor-in-Chief

Megan Keller, Publisher

Daniel Ludlam, Managing Editor

The Safest Space in Claremont

My senior year of high school, I established a safe space. Of course, at that point in my life, I had never heard the phrase “safe space,” so I called it the Gay-Straight Alliance. At its best, the GSA was a family for kids who did not otherwise have a supportive community. And in my tiny rural high school, there were a lot of queer kids who needed family.

Still, the GSA struggled to be everything those students needed. It’s hard to build a community that consistently cares for its members. Regardless of their circumstances, people in a group tend to prioritize their standing in the group above the wellbeing of others. And, in many ways, safe spaces come engineered to make that worse. They are supposed to be somewhere members can be emotionally vulnerable and open. So, usually, the leadership is given the power to remove bullies who would pounce on that vulnerability.

The only problem is that this often gets abused.

A friend of mine started a GSA-like organization at her college freshman year and it imploded. New leadership were verbally abusive towards bisexual and pansexual students before ruling to ban them from meetings completely. Since these students could “pass as straight,” they were considered just as threatening to the group’s “safety” as straight people. In reality, their identities just made them easy to bully.

That safe space, like far too many do, allowed no room for dissenting views. The appointed leaders dictated the common good, what was right and wrong, who was pure and who was dangerous. No one could defend the outcasts, for fear of being deemed sinful themselves.

So I didn’t seek out a safe space my first year at Claremont. I visited the Queer Resource Center when I toured the colleges, but I never came back. The staff seemed nice and there were certainly times I could have used a community. I just didn’t think I would find it there, seeing as I was conservative, Christian, and—most importantly—fond of speaking my mind.

Then, last year, my friend dragged me to a 3CIV bible study. I had my misgivings. The people seemed nice but, again, I wasn’t sure I’d fit in. 3CIV is a branch of InterVarsity serving CMC, Scripps, and Harvey Mudd and as such is an Evangelical organization. I was raised as an Episcopalian, which is about as different you can get from InterVarsity stylistically and theologically without being Catholic. I figured I could get past the lack of hymns and stained glass, but did not think they’d be able to move beyond my opinions on scripture. Particularly, I didn’t think they’d get past me identifying as bisexual.

I wouldn’t have really blamed them if they didn’t allow me to join. After all, the QRC and other liberal groups on campus wouldn’t have accepted me for my political and religious views. It wasn’t any stranger for an Evangelical to think my choice to act on my sexual identity made me intolerable. And my personal experience with Evangelicals told me that’s what I should expect.

Then 3CIV blew my expectations apart. No matter how many points we disagreed on, no matter how much I pushed back, this group still treated me like someone with a soul. They prayed with me, talked with me, and welcomed me in as a member of their community. When I talked about my own experiences with homophobia, this Evangelical bible study listened to me and loved me.

That kind of unconditional care set the standard for all of our meetings. I was safe to disagree with someone and they were safe to disagree with me. Consequently, I had some of the best conversations I’ve ever had about healthy relationships and queerness with members of that evangelical bible study.

I was equal parts shocked and horrified last April when the Associated Students of Harvey Mudd College (ASHMC) decided to withdraw 3CIV’s funding on the grounds that it discriminated against LGBTQ students.

According to Carla Becker, ASHMC Senate Chair, while 3CIV welcomes anyone as a member, it requires that its official student leaders “exemplify Christlike character, conduct and leadership,” referring to several biblical passages, including 1 Corinthians 6: 7-11. Among other things, the passage states, “Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers – none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.” Accordingly, leaders must agree that sex outside of a monogamous, heterosexual marriage is immoral. If they disagree, they are asked to step down as official leaders but are still welcome as members.

So, ASHMC explained, in February, two Harvey Mudd leaders of 3CIV were asked to step down: one because of his views on the eternal nature of Hell and the other because of their perspective on sex outside of heterosexual marriage. According to Ms. Becker, “The leaders agreed to step down, but a friend of the members thought the action…discriminatory and went against the nondiscriminatory statement ASHMC requires in the charter of all ASHMC chartered clubs… This sparked discussion in the senate about whether or not leaders of religious clubs can be held to certain beliefs.”

That discussion is still ongoing as ASHMC holds a closed subcommittee this summer to decide exactly what it thinks. For 3CIV, this discourse has already had negative consequences.

On April 17, 3CIV requested $1000 in scholarship funds to send Mudd students to InterVarsity’s regional summer conference and “[a] senate member then motioned to give 3CIV $0 for the conference. The motion was seconded… The same senate member read [Corinthians 6: 7-11], mentioned cases of discrimination they had heard about from past LGBTQ member(s) of 3CIV, and mentioned a booklet published by InterVarsity on how parents can prevent homosexuality.” On April 24 the motion passed with 5 in favor, 4 opposed, and 3 abstentions. Though the alleged mistreatment of LGBTQ students was discussed, ASHMC’s decision ultimately hinged on the idea that 3CIV forces leaders who disagree with its stance on sex to step down.

The only problem is that isn’t factually true. According to the head of 3CIV, Kate Vosburg, “3CIV leaders are not asked to step down if they disagree with the belief that sex outside of marriage is immoral.  However, they are asked not to teach against this belief.  In the last 11 years I’ve been with 3CIV, we have not asked any leader to step down because of their personal beliefs about sex.”

Granted, this could just be a sizable mistake on ASHMC’s part, but it’s fairly large oversight and that makes me wonder why 3CIV came under fire at all. The idea that club leaders should represent their clubs’ ideals is not unusual. No one balks if the leader of a young republicans club is required to be a republican.

ASHMC’s behavior could be warranted if 3CIV were a particularly hateful organization. Though the leaders in 3CIV have much less power than, say, the leaders of my friends’ GSA, they still could be guilty of abusing it. However, the evidence indicates that is simply not true.

The leaders who were asked to step down in February did so amicably. When asked to comment, one of the ex-leaders, Nathaniel Leslie, said he did not feel discriminated against and commented: “I disagree with some of the organization’s theology and the way that they go about spreading it. However, I regard all of the people in 3CIV very highly. They are some of the kindest people that I have ever met.”

The other former leader, who wished to remain anonymous, stated:

“I think 3CIV is a great resource for a lot of Christians on campus, but it sadly does not represent all denominations of Christianity, nor does it claim to. Next year, with the support and good wishes of 3CIV, a few friends and I are going to work on creating another Christian group at Mudd that does not align itself with any denomination, in hopes to provide a welcoming place for Christians of all backgrounds, as well as anyone who is interested in exploring the Christian faith.”

Unfortunately, ASHMC chose to withhold the names of the students who allegedly experienced discrimination within 3CIV so I cannot comment on their experience, but judging only from my own I would be surprised if 3CIVers treated queer students unlovingly.

So it seems to me that the crux of the issue is not how 3CIV treats students or the construction of their charter, but probably ASHMC’s own prejudice against evangelical Christianity.

If that’s the case, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising. I love 3CIV now, but a year ago I would have assumed they were unfriendly towards queer. And I certainly wasn’t alone in that prejudice. Colleges are notoriously unfriendly towards religion and outright hostile towards evangelical Christians, who suffer state-sponsored oppression nationally for expressing their views.

However, what matters now is what ASHMC does to remedy their mistake. Come this fall, ASHMC will review whether or not to recognize 3CIV’s charter. Their decision will not be just a matter of free speech and religious liberty. It will help determine our campus culture.

In reality, 3CIV succeeds where the POC-only discussions and online forums, my friends’ GSA, and every other segregated “safe” space fails. Despite the increasingly common persecution of evangelical Christians, 3CIV opens its arms to every single student like a sister, comforts them like a mother, and strengthens them in the way a family should.

Corrections: The piece previously asserted that 3CIV asks leaders to step down if they disagree that sex outside of marriage is immoral and that the Asian Pacific Islander Support Program At Mudd only accepts Asian Pacific Islanders. Additionally, the articled stated that Students for Middle Eastern Cultural Promotion and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers are live organizations at Harvey Mudd.

These statements have been adjusted since this story’s initial publication.

President Oxtoby: “One of Academia’s Highest Values is Free, Open, Informed, and Honest Inquiry”

Earlier today, Pomona College President David Oxtoby sent out an email to the student body, faculty, and staff. The email, cosigned by Dean Crighton, Dean Feldblum, and Dean Collins-Eaglin, begins by stating, “Last fall, our community — along with other colleges and universities across the country — grappled with the tough and important matters of race, racism, economic inequality, access to higher education, and how we live and thrive together as a diverse and inclusive community.” The note continues by describing the value of the discussions surrounding last semester’s controversies. “We had difficult conversations about these complex topics in formal and informal settings; while we did not always agree, and at times these were uncomfortable exchanges for many of us, we are convinced that they were right and necessary.”

The statement then details the importance of free speech on college campuses. “Colleges and universities are the exact places where these discussions should unfold because one of academia’s highest values is free, open, informed, and honest inquiry,” the email states. “At their best, colleges support and value diversity of critical thought and experiences. When this happens, academic institutions can be powerful catalysts for both meaningful dialogue and consequential change. While beyond our gates, polarization is becoming the norm, here on campus, we have the opportunity and the duty to develop the knowledge and skills to change that trajectory and better the world around us.”

“To that end,” the statement continues, “we write to our community today to let you know that with the opening of the spring semester, our desire is to move forward together.” In order to do this, President Oxtoby plans “to intentionally cultivate an inclusive, welcoming environment where every member of the community is integral to the life and discourse of the College” as well as “ensure that Pomona is a place where, while we may not all agree, we respect the right to speak, rebut, and respond.”

The email also describes addition opportunities, such as “continuing meetings with student groups; support for mentoring; faculty hiring; sponsoring guest speakers; purposeful dialogue to deepen our understanding and knowledge; training for faculty, staff, and students; and other substantial steps.” Additionally, the email states, “We will build on the previous announcement of two new positions in Academic and Student Affairs to enhance student support, along with the additional support for student counseling. We will include members of the community in helping plan and implement these steps as we seek the most effective ways to bring about lasting change when and where it is needed.”

“We have learned, and will continue to learn, from the compelling experiences members of our community have shared,” the note continues. “Their stories have affected us on a personal level and better inform our role as leaders. We are excited to work with you this semester and in the years ahead.”

 

Only Some May Be Heard

“We need to be less afraid of being called racists, classists, and ableists, and more afraid of actually being those things,” lamented one student at Scripps College’s BeHeard Forum. The subject we had gathered to discuss was Silencing and Tone Policing – two phrases I had never heard until the week prior, when several Facebook comment wars exploded over supposed racialized and transphobic event titles, descriptions, and surveys. People’s actions and intentions soon became irrelevant because only language, and those who got to wield it, mattered.

Such encounters do not come as a surprise. We live in a time when extreme political correctness and campus movements – started mostly by minority students in an effort to silence any speech that they find hurtful or offensive – are raging across the country. The BeHeard Forum, intended to be a forum for resolving differences, quickly became an opportunity for people identifying as “victims” to complain about their pain and suffering while stifling constructive discourse concerning what constitutes appropriate campus debate. The forum highlighted the desire of some campus groups to ensure that those individuals with whom they disagree not be heard at all.

This particular forum was held in response to a Scripps Voice poll. The writer asked, “Are you aware of any Scripps stereotypes? Do they affect you?” The stereotypes in question essentially boil down to “promiscuous student” or “earnest feminist.” Somehow, this too became an issue of race when students began questioning if “fitting in” to a Scripps stereotype meant belonging to a certain race.

And then there was the outrage over a feminist event which served cupcakes decorated with vulvas, at which a former employee of the Queer Resource Center became incensed, stating, “How dare you associate vulvas with being a woman. I feel so violated.” Despite apologies from the event organizer, the conversation devolved into accusations of insensitivity towards trans women.

Tone policing is defined as the process in which a white or otherwise “privileged” person focuses on how something is being said, particularly when it is driven by anger or other heightened emotions. Silencing is when a member of a “victim class” does not feel safe enough to speak because another person – typically an authority figure or a white classmate – imposes a status or set of assumptions which the victim does not share. For example, if a straight person casually asks a classmate, “Are you interested in any guys?” the speaker has made an assumption about someone’s sexual identity that may or may not be accurate. This assumption, victims argue, silences the other person, even though the bisexual or lesbian classmate could just say something like “I’m interested in girls” to clear up any confusion.

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Both silencing and tone policing occur mostly on social media and in classrooms. They typically happen when a person of color (POC) “calls out” a white person for saying something “racially inappropriate.” The POC then proceeds to scold the person for saying something that is deemed both incorrect and offensive to not only the person individually, but also the entire group the person represents. This accusation runs counter to the idea that a single person of a particular ethnic or racial group should not be assumed to be the voice of or the same as all other persons from that group.

So what happens when someone is actually called out? According to the group at the BeHeard Forum, an ideal response from the person who is being called out would be for that person to apologize, thank the person who has called her out for taking time out of her day to do so, which must have been hard to do because of the “wall of silence the offender has put up,” and then research how to improve her thinking. In this “conversation,” there is never any room for a defense from the accused. Should the allegedly insensitive student attempt to explain her intent, it will only be interpreted as further “verbal violence.”

Without knowing it, these aggrieved students have actually replicated the same type of forced apologies and self-abasement pioneered by hard line Maoists, in the infamous re-education camps of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. That process was invented to suppress any type of intellectual dissent.

Forcing an individual to apologize and then express gratitude to the person for calling her out is a violation of our academic and social codes of allowing students to act and speak freely. I asked if perhaps this was a tall order. I asked if some focus should be placed on the ways in which people are called out. Unsurprisingly, I was quickly shut down. A fellow student responded that she felt entirely comfortable calling out offenders on their privilege, publicly ridiculing them on social media outlets, and making them feel uncomfortable and attacked if it ultimately helps them to “become better.”

One thing that was clear was that facts were entirely irrelevant in the discussion of offensive speech. One student explained, “In this case, feelings are facts.” But, of course, feelings are not facts, nor will they ever be facts. You can debate facts. Feelings, in these cases, are just weapons. Not allowing someone to defend herself because you deem your feelings superior to that person’s ability to speak freely is selfish. Nowhere in this process is there room for conflicting opinions on any level, which is an intellectual travesty, especially at a liberal arts college.

This forum was a discouraging experience. I watched other students pat one another on the back for finding and taking down bits and pieces of racism that simply did not exist, while being outwardly hostile and rude to their classmates. On college campuses today, tone policing and silencing are one-way streets. Only “privileged” students can commit speech crimes. All of the victims are people of color, LGTBQ*, or those who feel oppressed in some manner.
The moral absolutism that so many of the offended students believed in was dismaying. As was the contempt for the value of free speech, without which there is no possibility of reaching a genuine understanding or meaningful co-existence in our community. Unfortunately, this self-indulgent distortion of basic academic and social freedoms seems all too common on American college campuses.

______________

Image: Flickr

Vie, Liberté, Propriété, Charlie

By now, you have doubtless heard every analy­sis of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy. As we at the Inde­pendent saw our social media feeds flood with support for the “Je Suis Charlie” movement, we realized that “Charlies” are often the same people who chide the CI and others for publishing articles that don’t line up with the progressive, politically correct agenda. Sud­denly, everyone was a champion of free speech and the values of liberal democracy, but no one seemed to know what that means. 

Citizens of Western democracies, especially of the progressive or social democrat variety, must come to terms with reality. They have taken freedom, including, but not limited to, freedom of speech, for granted, and rarely appreciate its import.

In 2014, for the ninth consecutive year, accord­ing to Freedom House, the tide of freedom retreated around the world. Last year, nearly twice as many countries saw declines in freedom as saw improvements. About as many peo­ple live in “free” countries (2.9 billion) as in those that are “not free” (2.6 billion). No continent, no region is immune from il­liberalism. 

While the Charlie Hebdo killings hit close to home, similar and far worse tragedies are being orchestrated daily across the globe. For example, in Pakistan, a pregnant Farzana Paveen was stoned to death by her father, brother, and her spurned cousin-fi­ance because she chose to marry a man she loved. She was just one among the hundreds, if not thousands, of women killed in the name of honor in Pakistan every year. Raif Badawi, a blog­ger in Saudi Arabia, faces 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for allegedly “insulting Islam” on his blog, “Free Saudi Liber­als.” Among its countless acts of barbarism, ISIS is throwing gay men out of buildings, stoning women, and crucifying young men who refuse to convert to Sunni Islam. The abridgement of freedom is not in any way limited to Muslim-majority nations. In Nigeria, Boko Haram (“Western Education is Forbidden”) is ramping up its murderous campaign in Nigeria against those who refuse to live under its inhumane rule. Journalists the world over face threats of murder. Officially secular China is continuing to aggressively censor its media and stifle religion, Christianity in particular. Xinhua, a Chinese Communist Party-run newspaper, called for more censorship in light of the Charlie Hebdo massa­cre. Russia, Vietnam, Belarus, Cuba, and many other nations also deny basic freedoms.

Conservatives are often chastised for saying we want to promote freedom and democracy around the world, as if it’s some sort of imperial plot to subjugate the savages. Such couldn’t be further from the truth. We tend to think that people around the world deserve to be free and that opponents of freedom must be challenged as much as possible. As history has shown, the expansion of freedom is hardly inevitable. And when there is more freedom, not only is there less oppression, but there is also a great flourishing of humanity, technology, and other forms of progress. Look at China since the death of Mao. Even a modi­cum of additional freedom in marriage, work, travel, trade, and thought has brought about an enormous explosion in well-being.

There is no reason why people in China, Chad, or Syria are any less deserving or capable of being free and creating Charlies of their own than Europeans or Americans. They should have that chance.

At home, we should work to maintain our democratic insti­tutions. Progressive justice warriors, resist the temptation to cen­sor others. Instead of seeking to silence those you disagree with, engage with them. When a straight, cisgender white male speaks, confront his ideas and not his traits. If you think something is im­portant, make your argument. Tweet. Post. Blog. Write. Speak. Debate.

The ones who bring about progress in society are often those with “incorrect” views. If the left truly wants to see socie­tal progress, as opposed to greater statism, allow for and engage with those marginal views. If they’re good, help them go main­stream. And if they’re not, defeat them with your arguments, not through censorship.

We want to live in a free society. You probably do too.

Je Suis Charlie Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

All Aboard the Censorship

Charlie Hebdo's post-attack cover, representing a saddened prophet Mohammed. Charlie Hebdo says "All is forgiven" above the depiction of Mohammed.
Charlie Hebdo’s post-attack cover, representing a crying prophet Mohammed holding a “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) solidarity poster. Charlie Hebdo says “All is forgiven” above the depiction of Mohammed.

The recent terror attack against Charlie Hebdo in Paris is yet another example of the fact that there are people who so strongly wish to impose their views on others that they will silence their opponents by any means necessary. By using terror and intimidation tactics, extremists have attempted to scare those who disagree with them into silence, overpowering even the strongest laws protecting free speech.

Perhaps the most troubling part of the Charlie Hebdo attack is its relevance to the modern American college, where the idea of “offense” as the ultimate danger runs deep. This problem prevents students who do not hold mainstream views from participating in discussion on controversial topics for fear of punishment by either their school or by their peer group.

Though students, faculty members, and guest speakers are generally free from violence of this sort on campus, there is no shortage of closed-minded people striving to cut off the voices of those with whom they disagree. This phenomenon is known as the “heckler’s veto,” wherein unpopular opinions are silenced by threats of harassment and bullying from those who oppose such views.

For example, Daniel Mael, a student at Brandeis University, recently found himself under attack after he republished a classmate’s controversial public tweets regarding the execution-style murder of two NYPD officers on a conservative website. Since publishing the article, Mael’s classmates have called for physical violence against him and for his expulsion from Brandeis. Additionally, Mael’s family members, including his parents and grandmother, have been threatened. Mael has been told by campus police that, upon his return to campus after winter break, he should expect his car to be keyed, his dorm room vandalized, and that other students may attempt acts of violence against him.

Similar acts have recently been perpetrated against Omar Mahmood, a student at the University of Michigan who wrote a satirical article about political correctness for the university’s conservative paper, The Michigan Review. After his article was published, Mahmood was fired from his job at Michigan’s institutional campus paper, The Michigan Daily, and his apartment was vandalized: students had thrown eggs at his door and left notes with messages such as “shut the fuck up” and “everyone hates you, you violent prick” as well as a picture of Satan.

In essence, students at Brandeis and Michigan, respectively, tried to suppress their schools’ stated commitment to free speech and punish Mael and Mahmood for their opinions in order to prevent them and others like them from saying or writing things they don’t approve of.

The heckler’s veto is frequently responsible for scaring controversial speakers away from colleges as well. In recent years, loud and disruptive protestors, including both students and faculty members, have prevented speakers invited to campus from effectively sharing their thoughts by interrupting and interfering with their speeches. This was the case at Brown University in 2013, when New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s lecture titled “Proactive Policing in America’s Biggest City,” was canceled half an hour in after protestors grew so loud that it became impossible for him to continue.

But even more troubling is the fact that many speakers withdrew from giving their lecture at all due to the threat of disruption. For example, Christine Lagarde, the first female leader of the IMF, canceled her commencement address at Smith College last year after a series of anti-IMF demonstrations created a hostile environment at the college in which Lagarde felt unwelcome. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was slated to give the commencement speech at Rutgers University last spring, canceled her lecture in response to student protests criticizing her role in the war in Iraq.

Last year also saw Robert J. Birgeneau, former chancellor of the University of California system, back out of his commencement speech at Haverford College after students and professors demonstrated against him. Even Haverford’s president, Daniel H. Weiss, was upset that Birgeneau would not be speaking at Haverford, stating, “we have lost an opportunity to recognize and hear from one of the most consequential leaders in American higher education. Though we may not always agree with those in positions of leadership, I believe that it is essential for us as members of an academic community to reaffirm our shared commitment to the respectful and mindful process by which we seek to learn through inquiry and intellectual engagement.”

As Weiss stated, it is extremely important to note that recognizing controversial public figures’ accomplishments or providing controversial lecturers with a platform to speak does not necessarily condone support for all of their opinions or actions. It benefits students to be exposed to a broad range of perspectives and the people who hold them. In the incidents involving Lagarde, Rice, and Birgeneau, the students chose to censor themselves from ideas they didn’t like, and created enough of a threat to those who held such views to prevent them from speaking their minds on campus.

The use of intimidation to suppress certain opinions has no place in a free society. Protesters should seek to promote an increase in discussion and understanding rather than seeking to prevent the other side from articulating its views. There can be no debate or intellectual curiosity if only “acceptable” arguments are allowed. We can only hope that, even in the face of intimidation tactics, people around the world will not back down in fear and will continue to express their opinions, however controversial, freely. Whether in Paris, Claremont, or anywhere else, free speech is the single most important element of a free society. In order to maintain this freedom, we must stand up for the right to freely express all speech, whether we agree with it or not.