My recent series of posts about perils of proposed blasphemy laws should not be read to suggest that Muslims are the source of all censorious demands in the modern world. Censorious twatwafflery can be found amongst all religious, ethnic, and political groups.
Today's example: Amy Alkon points us to an update to story I covered in August here and at Salon about a censorious, insipid, and quintessentially academic recommendation by a University of California advisory committee that thought that the UC should pass "hate speech" rules to limit vigorous and vivid political arguments about Israel. The UC's response has given reason to hope that its leadership recognizes that the proposal is wantonly unconstitutional.
But some people don't want to wait for the UC to decide. They prefer to use the power of the state to compel suppression of speech they don't like. Via Amy, the civil rights office of the U.S. Department of Education has launched an investigation into complaints that anti-Israel protests violate the rights of Jewish students to be free of harassment:
The U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office confirmed this week that it has launched an investigation into the charges, first filed in July by two recent Berkeley graduates. They complained that an annual “Apartheid Week” in February featuring protests against Israel's treatment of Palestinians was one of several campus events that have stoked anti-Semitic hate speech.
By failing to curb such activities, the university is presenting “a disturbing echo of incitement, intimidation, harassment and violence carried out under the Nazi regime and those of its allies in Europe against Jewish students and scholars … during the turbulent years leading up to and including the Holocaust,” the complaint alleges.
Godwinized right out of the gate.
Joel H. Siegal, one of two attorneys who filed the complaint, said the actions by activists with the Muslim Student Assn. and Students for Justice in Palestine went beyond protected political protest. During “Apartheid Week,” the San Francisco attorney said, student activists posing as Israeli guards forcing people through mock checkpoints wore Stars of David and skullcaps to attack Judaism and portray all Jews as “bloodthirsty barbarians.”
Siegal demonstrates the insidious and pervasive nature of censorship: it always looks for a way in the door, a way to allow the state to dictate what words can be uttered. If protests can't be shut down based on clear legal precedent regarding incitement, then someone will argue that the protests violate a protected right not to be offended. Perversely, under this way of thinking, the more controversial the subject matter — the more vivid the political circumstances being criticized — the more dangerous it will be to speak. Imagine, for instance, someone arguing that it is impermissible to discuss the atrocities committed in the name of anti-blasphemy laws on campus because it might create a hostile environment for Muslim students. This is madness. The remedy for hateful or offensive speech is more speech. Future Holocausts will be encouraged — not prevented — by inviting the government to dictate what expression is permissible.
The position of Siegal and the other complainants is unprincipled, thuggish, and un-American. But it's important to note that it's not a "Jewish position." In fact, many Jewish Americans have condemned censorship efforts at UC. Perhaps they recognize that exceptions to free speech are inevitably used against the least powerful and popular.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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