Freedom of speech cannot be selective

Shideh Ghandeharizadeh | Daily Trojan

Setting foot on the UC Berkeley campus last Wednesday, far-right personality Milo Yiannopoulos was greeted with a deluge of anger and protests, both peaceful and violent. Yiannopoulos, an editor for Breitbart News, had been booked to speak by the Berkeley College Republicans but was rushed from campus after fires were lit and glass shattered over his presence. Having risen to recent notoriety over his Twitter attacks against Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones, Yiannopoulos is reviled for his outlandish racism and misogyny. In the wake of Yiannopoulos’ failed attempt to speak at UC Berkeley, President Donald Trump tweeted out a condemnation of actions he blamed on the school administration for preventing Yiannopoulos from exercising his freedom of speech.

And yet, there is a distinct difference between censoring Yiannopoulos and stating emphatically, with peaceful protest, that the students of UC Berkeley do not condone giving a platform to a man who edits Breitbart News, who writes articles titled “Here’s Why There Ought to be a Cap on Women Studying Science and Maths,” who launched racist and sexist attacks on Jones and desperately utilizes pomp and provocation to create outrage and attract attention. There is a difference between not wanting a man like that on campus and silencing that man, because silencing is an extreme stance to take on what happened. Yiannopoulos will go home and still be an editor for Breitbart. He will still retain a massive following, even without his Twitter account or a speech at UC Berkeley.

It needs to be recognized that the university gave its full support to the group that booked Yiannopoulos. And so it was not the administration that barred Yiannopoulos from speaking, not even many of the peaceful student activists. It was a violent group of individuals who lit fires and sprayed anarchy symbols on school buildings, and that degree of action is intolerable even against intolerable people. But that didn’t stop Trump from rushing to Twitter. “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?” he tweeted at 3:12 a.m.

The disaccord in his statement was evident. For a president to not understand this, or worse, to know it and still not care, is horrifying. Read between the lines of what Trump is playfully threatening, and one will see the double-edged sword. UC Berkeley has long been a bedrock of liberal college activism, and moreover, as a university, promotes research and progress in the fields of science and math. Universities are hotbeds for intellectual and political discourse, and for the president to cut off federal support — is that not silencing in its own nature, of a more devastating sort?

It is difficult to pin this on Yiannopoulos, because he gives off the impression of someone who thrives on outrage and disaccord. But as for Trump and his administration, what they are asking for is not peaceful protest — they want no protest at all. They want to be able to say what they want to applause and ovation, and that is not how the country works. If conservatives are willing to point at political correctness as an impediment to freedom of speech and willing to hold freedom of speech above the livelihoods of marginalized citizens and immigrants, then they also need to recognize the other side of the equation. Say what you want, but understand that others will disagree, especially if your words dehumanize them and the people they love. That is how democracy works.

Perhaps if conservatives were as concerned with freedom of speech as they claim to be, they should protect the press from what is surely a presidential war being waged on the media. If free speech were as paramount and American as conservatives obsess over, then they must focus on the disregard for truth by the government’s executive branch. Focus on the fact that the president labeled the media “the opposition party” and that the press secretary spouts easily-detected lies from the White House podium.

It is a disturbing and transparent tactic of the oppressor to take the accusations lobbed at them and turn them against the oppressed and those who fight for truth. It’s the same mentality Trump uses when he calls CNN “fake news” before taking a question from Breitbart, when he reprimands Berkeley for withholding Yiannopoulos’ freedom of speech but holds conferences with prominent journalists accusing them of sullying his image. The truth is not contingent to the First Amendment, and yet the men in charge of the country are currently using that very American value selectively to spread lies and create fear. They are dirtying the Constitution in the name of democracy, and to do all this while pretending to protect the voice of a known bigot is absurd.

8 replies
  1. Don Harmon
    Don Harmon says:

    OK. Some good points in this article. But I am confused where the article led and the conclusions.
    1. Yiannopoulos has unpopular, bigoted ideas and given the chance, presumably would have preached his philosophy at UC Berkely. OK, I get it. So is this good enough to justify student thugs shattering windows and setting fires while denying a speaker the right to speak? And denying the sponsoring student group from hearing him?
    2. “. . . Universities are hotbeds for intellectual and political discourse. . . .” I get that, too. So how does this correlate with UC Berkeley students shutting down whatever intellectual and political discourse might spring from debating Yiannopoulos’ ideas – ok, even bad ideas. Which ideas shall be permitted to emerge? Only those of the majority of students? Not opposing ideas, even if they are unacceptable to most students?
    3. “The truth is not contingent to the First Amendment. . . .” This sentence aims to condemn the Trump administration because it “spreads lies and creates fear.” Does the sentence also mean that speakers at a university should be prohibited from speaking and violence created because some students think that way of the speaker?

    My conclusion is different. I can agree with assertions about the Trump administration that Zoe Cheng made in her article. But it seems to be that the real point should be that students should riot, smash windows, throw firebombs and shut down speakers because he will likely present ideas they find repellent. This is not the discourse one should find in a university.

    I hope that this ugly, narrow-minded book-burning mentality of behavior never shows up at USC. If I were to hear such a speaker at USC call for a dictatorship in the US, a communist economic system and similar ideas, I might listen with curiosity. Who brought this speaker here? And why? Why did USC authorize this speaker? More likely, I would walk away with disgust. I am certain, though, that I would not clothe myself in a black costume, smash windows, set fires and drive off the speaker.

    • Emma Jane
      Emma Jane says:

      Thank you for your comment. I am really confused about why every single negative article about Milo brings up Trump. Although Milo was for Trump he is not Trump and shouldn’t be solely associated with him.

      I also understand that bigoted views are unpopular but my concern is that 1.) a view being unpopular = not allowed to speak, and 2.) who gets to define bigotry? People keep using these really intense labels and it isn’t always applied correctly.
      They should have just let him speak. His book is #1 on preorder and I’m sure it wasn’t just conservatives who purchased it after this riot….

      • Don Harmon
        Don Harmon says:

        Universities are known for their highly liberal environment in politics and other thinking. Fine. But what is liberal about rioting and driving off a speaker? If his views are repulsive, then when questions are asked, stand up and comment, ask questions that make clear the nastiness of the speaker’s message. True liberalism permits and encourages free speech. If the speech is purely pointed insults to the audience, or calls for violence, then perhaps closing it down could be justified. But this speaker at UC Berkeley, however vile, was invited by an authorized student group, had an idea to discuss and should have been treated with dignity and silence. Those Cal students acted in a shameful manner and God forbid that USC students ever do the same.

        • Thekatman
          Thekatman says:

          Perfect, Don.
          BTW: My father was a 20 yr Naval aviator, USNR. We were stationed at Norfolk NAS 1961 – 1965. Norfolk is also my dad’s birthplace, so we got to spend a lot of time with his family. My sister and I attend Saint Pius X elementary school. My dad flew that jet trainer.fighter that is your avatar.

      • Don Harmon
        Don Harmon says:

        Perhaps one can understand if some students booed the speaker, although I despise that. But smash and burn is another matter.

  2. Thekatman
    Thekatman says:

    The hate speeches and property destruction are all coordinated efforts by the Left and anarchists to create fear and mayhem on college campuses and cities around the country. Their purpose is based on fear mongering and false information. The Left’s propaganda machine is working very well. College students today’s are so easily ,anipulated, emotiinally, because they have been indoctrinated by the Left through liberal teachers and professors since they were in grade school. Yes, thus indoctrination has been going on for 50 years and this is a key reason why there is so much back lask being thrown at anyone who has a contrary opinion or position. Liberals are all m in for freedom of expression, free speech rights… except when yours is contrary to theirs. And that’s the unAmerican values they are pushing on college campuses today.

    • Don Harmon
      Don Harmon says:

      You nailed it, KatMan: “Liberals are all m in for freedom of expression, free speech rights. . . except. . . .” That UC student behavior was not liberal at all.

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