Sometimes being a supporter of free speech can be really really really hard. A leading expert of “comparative jurisprudence” and Sunni cleric at al-Azhar University, Dr. Sabri Abdel Raouf, has been placed under review by his university (and ordered by the state media regulator to stay off the air) after dispensing some rather chilling advice on Sharia law and Islamic values. Abdel Raouf had told viewers that it is is permissible under Islamic law for a husband to have sex with his dead wife in what is called “goodbye intercourse.” The action taken by the university and the government highlights the curious line drawn over the discussion of Islam in Egypt. Moreover, it is a rather bizarre example of the debate that we are having in this country over the right of academics to engage in free (and controversial) speech outside of their schools. In this case, both the university and the government have moved to prevent anyone from airing these views as an insult to Islam.
We have been discussing how faculty around the country are supporting the abandonment of free speech principles to bar speakers and speech with which they disagree. The most extreme form of this rejection of classical liberal values is the antifa movement. We have seen faculty physically attack speakers or destroy messages that they oppose. We have also seen faculty physically attacked and intimidated. In some of these incidents, other faculty have supported students in shutting down speakers or fellow academics (here and here). The latest example of faculty opposing free speech is a letter of over 200 University of California, Berkeley professors and faculty are calling for the shutdown of classes and activities during “free speech week.” To the dismay of these professors, free speech week will include speakers with whom they disagree. Thus, they have posted a letter that not only seeks a boycott of free speech but have proclaimed that certain speech (in this case speech they do not like) is unworthy of free speech protection. Note the faculty and Ph.D students are calling for a boycott of classes and all campus activities, not just the speeches themselves. Turning off the lights and fleeing the campus at the approach of opposing views hardly fits with the school’s motto of “Fiat Lux” (Let There Be Light).
A couple of faculty members at the Elliott School of International Affairs sent me an email yesterday from their dean, former Ambassador Reuben E. Brigety, II that they found unsettling and unwise. The school has adopted a policy that all panels in the future at the school cannot be composed of a single gender and that “Non-adherence to this policy could result in cancellation of the event.” The policy raises serious questions of academic freedom and the subordination of intellectual content in favor of the diversity policies. No one has suggested that Dean Brigety is likely to impose mandatory quotas and disciplinary actions. He is an experienced diplomat at a nationally respected graduate school, though he has had controversial moments during this tenure as dean. However, there has been no real discussion of the implications of these policies and how they impact the academic mission of universities like George Washington.
There is a new free speech controversy on a university campus this week. Robbie Travers, a 21-year-old third-year law student at the University of Edinburgh, is under investigation for a “hate crime” after mocking ISIS fighters targeted in a massive air strike by the United States. Esme Allman, a second-year history student, accused Travers of “blatant Islamophobia” and creating an unsafe environment for students through his mocking of the terrorists being helped to paradise.
Michigan State University is being sued after it refused to rent space on campus for white nationalist Richard Spencer to speak later this month. The rental was requested by Georgia State University student Cameron Padgett for an event on-campus at the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center.