Leftist academics are quite fond of proclaiming that freedom of speech in America is an illusion. Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Ward Churchill, Tariq Ali and many of their acolytes have consistently argued that their views are not given sufficient coverage in the press and that the doors of many institutions remain closed to the expression of their views.
The charge itself is notoriously off the mark. For not only are these doyens of the far left free to catapult their poisonous cocktail of anti- Americanism, anti-Semitism and general contempt for American exceptionalism into our academic institutions, they have also become campus media darlings, their pronouncements taken with the utmost seriousness and afforded standing ovations for their most prolix and incendiary comments.
Rather, it would seem that those who stand for true Western values of openness and debate have a much better case for alleging creeping censorship in the United States.
Cases in point:
- On July 9, Robert Spencer was scheduled to speak at the American Library Association convention in Chicago but was canceled at the last minute after pressure from the Council on American-Islamic. Spencer, the editor of JihadWatch.com and an associate fellow of the American Freedom Alliance, was invited to join a panel forum at the ALA's annual General Meeting on the topic "Perspectives on Islam: Beyond the Stereotyping." According to his attorney, William J. Becker Jr., as he was leaving to catch a plane for the event, Spencer learned that it had been cancelled. According to reports he later read on the Internet, Ahmed Rehab, Chicago executive director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), was responsible for bringing about the cancellation. In a letter to ALA, Rehab wrote: "I ask you to rescind the invitation to Mr. Spencer in order to maintain the integrity of the panel and the reputation of the ALA." Mr. Spencer, he argued, offered "grotesque viewpoints that lie well outside the bounds of reason and civilized debate."
- On September 20, an appearance the Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia by Brigitte Gabriel, a Christian Lebanese advocate for the rights of Muslim women and the President of Act for America! was cancelled. It appears that the decision was made after pressure was exerted by members of the Naval Academy amidst concerns about offending Muslims. It was not the first time Ms. Gabriel has been confronted by hostility to her appearances. In April 2006 she was invited to give a lecture sponsored by Professor David Patterson of the Judaic Studies Program. When news about of her appearance spread, the Muslim community both on and off campus launched a full-scale campaign to stop her lecture. They demanded that Dr. Patterson cancel her speech. E-mails flooded the University of Memphis administration and Dr. Patterson from Muslim students on campus and Muslims in the community and mosques.
- On October 8, the well known blogger Pamela Geller was scheduled to appear on The Eddie Burke Show on WBYR, "the best news and talk in Alaska," to debate the "freelance journalist" and anti-Semite Alison Weir. Because Weir made known her displeasure at the appearance of Geller known, Geller's appearance was cancelled. Weir appeared on the show alone.
- On October 12 David Horowitz, President of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, was scheduled to speak at St. Louis University but because of the title of his speech, "Islamo-Fascism Awareness and Civil Rights., he too was cancelled. Horowitz commented: "I have spoken at 400 universities. This is the first time my speech has been censored and stopped by an administration. And they are supposed to be the guardians of intellectual discourse." Cary Nelson, the president of the American Association of University Professors, said that with this cancellation, St. Louis University "joins the small group of campuses that are universities in name only…. The free exchange of ideas is not just a comforting offshoot of higher education; it defines the fundamental nature of the enterprise."
All of this follows hot on the heels of another outrage, this time perpetrated at Yale University. Just two weeks ago, on October 1, the University hosted both Kurt Westergaard, the cartoonist who had penned the notorious "Bomber turban cartoon," as well as Brandeis Prof. Jytte Klausen , author of The Cartoons that Shook the World. The latter had been subject in August to a last minute decision by Yale University Press to remove not only the reprinted 12 cartoons but also all representations of Muhammad. What was the reaction of the Yale Faculty to the appearances? As Peter Berkowitz recounts in Saturday's weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, while Westergaard's appearance prompted a small faculty-led panel, the same faculty remained entirely silent and unmoved by Yale's censorship of Ms. Klausen's book. Not one word of support was spoken on her behalf.
These acts of censorship, which smack of the violation of free speech in its most egregious form, may be endemic to the kind of intolerance we now see metastizing unchecked throughout our elite institutions.
This week the American Freedom Alliance learned of the spread of this disease through first hand experience. A premiere screening of the documentary Darwin's Dilemma, at the Californa Science Center's IMAX Theater, which was to be the kick off to our October Darwin Debates series, was cancelled by CSC on the claim that we had issued unapproved publicity for the event. Nothing of the sort had occured. The alleged publicity had been distributed by a third party, and, as we soon gleaned from emails and other sources, was a mere pretext for the cancellation of a film whose message on intelligent design neither the California Science Center nor its national afilliate, the Smithsonian Institute, approves.
The California Science Center, I should remind my readers, is a public institution, paid by and for with tax payer dollars. Its mission statement claims that the Center "aspire(s) to ……inspire science learning in everyone….. because we value science as an indispensable tool for understanding our world, accessibility and inclusiveness…."
One would that such 'inclusiveness' would incorporate views it does not, as an institution, necessarily embrace.
Stated baldly, this public institution had a responsibility to a California organization to allow free and open discussion of contoversial subjects of a scientifc nature, and no more so at an event that is actually labeled 'a debate', with both sides of the issue represented.
Needless to say, a law suit is pending.
AFA has found an alternative venue to replace the IMAX Theater, albeit at great expense and with a tinge of bitterness at being treated in such a reprehensible manner.
But the story is not over.
Those who live in the Los Angeles area now have an opportunity now to express their outrage, not just toward the California Sceince Center, but to the entire throng of elite institutions who demonstrate consistent denial of First Amendment rights. Join us in attending the new location for the screening on Sunday night, October 25 at the Davidson Conference Center at USC. Make clear your disgust with the way an elite and high profile institution handled a freedom one might have thought it was pledged to protect.
Who knows, if we cheer those films loudly enough maybe our voices will heard over the din of traffic at the California Science Center, just a quarter of a mile away.