No Concept of Free Speech

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006 5:17 pm by Neal

A lot of attention has been given to last week’s incident of “Mob rule at Columbia University”, in which “activists” stormed the stage during a speech by the co-founder of the Minutemen Project, Jim Gilchrist. Powerline covered the event here, and the NYSun has coverage here, including this,

The pandemonium that ensued as the evening’s keynote speaker took the stage was merely the climax of protest that brewed all week. A number of campus groups, including the Chicano caucus, the African-American student organization, and the International Socialist organization, began planning their protests early this week when they heard that the Minutemen would be arriving on campus.

The student protesters, who attended the event clad in white as a sign of dissent, booed and shouted the speakers down throughout. They interrupted Mr. Stewart, who is African-American, when he referred to the Declaration of Independence’s self-evident truth that “All men are created equal,” calling him a racist, a sellout, and a black white supremacist.

A student’s demand that Mr. Stewart speak in Spanish elicited thundering applause and brought the protesters to their feet. The protesters remained standing, turned their backs on Mr. Stewart for the remainder of his remarks, and drowned him out by chanting, “Wrap it up, wrap it up!” Mr. Stewart appeared unfazed by their behavior. He simply smiled and bellowed, “No wonder you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“These are racist individuals heading a project that terrorizes immigrants on the U.S.-Mexican border,” Ryan Fukumori, a Columbia junior who took part in the protest, told The New York Sun. “They have no right to be able to speak here.”

The student protesters “rush to vindicate themselves with monikers like ‘liberal’ and ‘open-minded,’ but their actions, their attempt to condemn the Minutemen without even hearing what they have to say, speak otherwise,” the president of the Columbia College Republicans, Chris Kulawik, said. On campus, the Republicans’ flyers advertising the event were defaced and torn down.

In the last week, the controversy has just gotten more intense. Little Green Footballs is reporting today that the protestors have set up a petition to support their actions. Click here to read the statement of support for the petition. Click here to read a counter-petition.

Also, Ross Kaminsky has an editorial at today entitled “Too Controversial for Columbia.” A graduate of Columbia, he makes these points:

A letter to the editor of the Columbia Spectator on October 9th as well as the staff editorial on the same date are informative: The “message from the protesters”, apparently written by a senior majoring in economics, goes out of its way to misstate the goals of the Minutemen (of whom I am not a huge fan, for the record). The writer also makes the typical leftist radical mistake of calling everything she disagrees with “fascist,” a rather silly error for anyone but especially a senior economics major.

The writer tries to create a moral equivalence between the protesters’ directly inciting violence against an invited speaker and what she considers to be offensive speech or policy goals of the Minutemen or some of its members. She misses the basic point of America: Political speech, even if you don’t like it, is precisely what the First Amendment was written to protect. Violence against a speaker is unacceptable.

Everything you really need to know about the protesters is contained in this sentence: “Shame on the College Republicans for inviting this fascist thug and provoking such outrage on our campus.” In other words, the act of inviting a controversial speaker is worse than violence against that speaker . . . oh, and the speaker must be a “fascist thug” because he doesn’t agree with the writer’s left-wing sensibilities which are typical of Columbia students.

Her protests that “this is not an issue of free speech” makes it all that much clearer that that is exactly what the issue is. The protesters do not have an “equal right” to shout down a speaker, much less to assault him or his entourage. The right answer . . . the only answer acceptable in our country . . . is to let him speak and then set up your own event to tell everyone why he was wrong.

The Spectator’s editorial was no better: Claims that the University somehow is not getting “fair representation” falls into the same trap of moral equivalence between unpopular speech and violence. From my family’s experience at Columbia, this type of appalling behavior by Columbia students is not “an unfortunate exception” but rather an all too common occurrence.

It is a remarkable thing about liberals (or, at Columbia, outright leftists) in free societies: They are far more intolerant than conservatives. The protesters hate people who oppose illegal immigration. They accept the use of intimidation and violence to keep such people from speaking, then blame the victim for having been controversial. Conservatives generally don’t hate people for their views even if those views are as wrong-headed as those of many (or, in my experience, most) Columbia students.

The beauty of America is that we have an open political market. People of all views are free to speak, to be a touchstone for debate, and then to win or lose in the court of public opinion and at the ballot box.

The staff at Columbia University’s undergraduate magazine are covering this story at their blog here. They have lots of photos of protests, more protests, and links to videos of the “activists” appearing on Fox News after the incident.

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