I recently posted a blog column on the troubling image of President Donald Trump calling Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his success in securing what are viewed as near dictatorial powers in a recent referendum. Erdogan did not waste any time in using the powers. Turkish police have arrested 1,000 people suspected of being supporters of Erdogan’s main opponent, US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Drexel University Professor George Ciccariello-Maher is an unabashed lightning rod for controversy. Last Christmas, he wrote how he longed for “white genocide”. Then recently he wrote how he wanted to “vomit” when an airline passenger gave up his first class seat to a soldier. It is chilling and obnoxious rhetoric, but he made these comments on his private social media sites. The investigation by Drexel appears to be the direct result of donors threatening to withdraw support for the university. As such, it is a highly troubling intrusion into the right of free speech of faculty.
It appears that being shy could now be part of the ever-widening and ill-defined ranger of “micro aggressions.” Oxford’s Equality and Diversity Unit has issued a statement to student that avoiding eye contact or “not speaking directly to people” could be deemed a “racial microaggression.” Such a failure to maintain eye contact is cited as a possible cause for “mental ill-health”.
We have been discussing how the left has fallen out of love with free speech and how free speech is now being treated not as the defining right of liberty but the very threat to liberty. Indeed, the most existential threats to free speech around the world are now coming from the left, which has embraced speech codes and the criminalization of speech with a passion. There are exceptions like Bernie Sanders who recently declared that Ann Coulter should be allowed to speak at Berkeley — a position that I obviously have shared on this blog. However, that principled position was countered by the most common response of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean who declared that hate speech is not protected by the Constitution. He is obviously wrong but his inclination — even eagerness — to limit free speech is now a mainstream idea among liberals who once were the champions of this defining right. Notably, Dean has shown increasing intolerance in other areas. He recently denounced a member of Congress after she simply asked for evidence to support the culpability of the Syrian regime in the recent chemical attack.
The officials at the University of California at Berkeley have had a change of heart and agreed to the planned speech by conservative Ann Coulter. The decision to cancel the speech was criticized on this blog and in other forums as the latest example of mob rule on our campuses. The decision is a welcomed change. However, Coulter has objected to the scheduling change in the speech when no students are likely to be on campus. Coulter has rejected the change and plans to move forward as previously set for the event.
We have been discussing the erosion of free speech on our campuses across the country through speech codes and increasingly violent protests. Conservative speakers are now routined denied the opportunity to speak on campuses by university officials who cite security concerns or by mob action preventing events from occurring. The latest example is Ann Coulter whose speech was cancelled at the last minute by the university even though she agreed to additional conditions set by officials. Coulter however pledges to show up to speak regardless of the decision. That could produce a confrontation with the university in its continued failure to protect free speech on its campus.