The next panel was entitled, Freedom of Expression in Repressive Conditions. The panelists were Olufunmilayo Arewa from the UCI Law School, who talked about digital disruption in post-colonial Africa, Nina Khrushcheva (a granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev), who talked about the situation in Russia under Putin, Luisa Lim, who talked about China's (very successful) efforts to remove the memory of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, and UCLA professor Saree Makdisi who talked about the repression of pro-Palestinian students at UCLA (that's right).
Khruscheva took the position that while Vladimir Putin is certainly repressive and has been responsible for the ordered killings of some of his opponents, the situation in Russia is much exaggerated in America. She told a humorous story about standing in Red Square holding a poster that read, "Putin is a dick" and being shooed away by a confused cop who had no idea what a dick was.
Then there was Makdisi. I mean, what is repression in Africa, Russia and China compared to UCLA, right? Makdisi, a professor of English literature, is a regular on the anti-Israel collegiate tour and a frequent op-ed writer for the LA Times, thanks, I presume to Mr Goldberg.. This was the second time I have heard him speak at UCI. At any rate, Makdisi spun his tale of woe by stating that one can take a lot of heat criticizing Israeli policies. He talked about the nasty hate mail he gets and the negative reactions from LA Times readers. He said that university administrators are not being protective of faculty and students (who criticize Israel) and mentioned the case of the so-called Irvine 11, the Muslim Student Union members who disrupted the speech of Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren at UCI in 2010, an event I witnessed. He characterized it as "interrupting" the speech something college students always do."
On the contrary. It was an organized and choreographed attempt to shut the speech down.
During the q and a, I was called upon and directed my comments to Makdisi.
I stated that as a part-time teacher at UCI Extension, I had been following the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it has played out on our campus and other campuses since 2007. It was evident to me that the pro-Palestinian voices were totally dominating the discourse on campus-to the extent that Jewish students were being bullied and intimidated, to the extent that swastikas were appearing on campus buildings, and to the extent that an Israeli ambassador had his speech at UCI disrupted. Thus, I disagreed with Makdisi's assertions that pro-Palestinian students were the objects of repression.
In response, Makdisi stated the pro-Palestinian supporters were coming forth with facts and statistics, and that the pro-Israel students contended that this made them feel uncomfortable. He referred to the on-going issue of the university of California trying to formulate a statement of principles on intolerance and that the pro-Israel forces wanted the State Department's definition of anti-Semitism included in that statement. Makdisi mischaracterized the State Depratemts's definition as saying that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. (more on that point later). He also stated that "we are winning the argument" and that to label those arguments as anti-Semitic was an attempt to suppress arguments.
And for that, the audience of academics applauded.
The final panel was entitled, The New Correct: Freedom of Expression on Campus. The panelists were: Caitlin Flanagan a professor from Colorado College, Barry Glassner, President of Lewis and Clark College in Oregon, David Palumbo-Liu, professor of comparative literature at Stanford, and Brendan O'Neill (previously mentioned), Editor of Spiked.com.
O'Neill led off, and by the time he had finished, every flower in the room full of liberal academics had died. He was a refreshing voice of sanity as he quickly condemned ideas like "safe spaces", which he described as ugly, authoritarian places on British university campuses.. He gave plenty of examples of the insanity reigning in British academia including the incident a few days ago at King's College, where an Israeli speaker was loudly and violently disrupted by pro-Palestinian students who broke windows and rampaged through the building claiming that the event violated their "safe space". He spoke of how a speech by a Muslim apostate named Maryam Nemazie was disrupted by Muslim students at Goldsmith's University, who claimed that they were made to feel uncomfortable and that their safe space was violated. He talked about how his own participation at an abortion debate at Oxford was cancelled due to protests by feminists. Later, during the q and a, O'Neill asked whether the others really thought that minorities were less able to deal with free speech and engage in real debate, and whether that in itself was racist thinking.
O'Neill went on to place the greater blame on the adults who were teaching all this nonsense to students, who, in turn, were "little tyrants", whose idea was that "if you make us feel unsafe, we will destroy you."
O'Neill was followed by Glassner, who quickly took issue with his remarks saying that he had mocked students who alert their professors to "trigger warnings" and had mocked those (like him) who had to deal with them. He talked about the activism of his own students who "thankfully" had made his life miserable. He mentioned that he had to wait two months to move into his own office space because his students had taken it over as their own "safe space". (Boy, Mr Glassner, are you some weak president!) He then recounted the story of a 19-year-old black female student who had found racial slurs written on posters in her dorm. He said that "trigger warnings" were the result of serious research involving the victims of rape or other abuse and that they should be able to avoid certain materials in school that might trigger those memories.
Flanagan told of a white male student at Colorado College who had made a joke on social media to the effect that, "Black girls matter. They're just not hot". The student was called in by the administration, admitted to the statement, and apologized. He was suspended for two years. She added that FIRE, (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) reminded the school that although they were a private institution, their own handbook had affirmed their commitment to protecting freedom of speech. Flanagan asked, "Can we teach students that if somebody says something we don't like, we just get rid of them?" Later, during the q and a, she expressed her belief that there was a lot of anti-black racism among college students today.
Palumbo-Liu said that he was against making speech illegal, but expressed certain reservations. He mentioned the University of Oklahoma students who were expelled for singing racist songs on a bus. He said that he had discussed this incident with his students and noted one saying that "finally, a white college administrator had done the right thing". He noted that we would one day be a majority-minority society and also noted the rise in suicides among college students. He then went on to say that there were external forces attacking free speech on campus. This led him into the Israeli-Palestinian issue. He repeated Makdisi's mis-characterization of the State Department's definition of anti-Semitism as including criticism of Israel. He referred to the issue of UC's statement of principles on intolerance and told of how one UC regent, Richard Bloom (who is married to US Senator Dianne Feinstein) said at a recent regent's working group at UCI that his wife would be asking him about the progress of the statement. Note: I was present at that event. Bloom's comment was inappropriate, to be sure, but Palumbo-Liu neglected to mention comments by several other regents, such as John Perez, Norman Pettiz and others that expressed a need to specifically address anti-Semitism.
Palumbo-Liu, in referring to "external forces" neglected to mention external forces that are backing the pro-Palestinian students, such as CAIR, American Muslims for Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, American Friends Service Committee, and others. At one point, Palumbo-Liu said that Jewish students should be challenged. I would have liked to ask him if he would extend that statement to other ethnic and religious groups since it seemed to be the dominant thinking that minorities should not be challenged given all the emphasis on safe spaces, trigger warnings, micro-aggressions and macro-aggressions.
There were so many questions I wanted to ask but alas, I was not called upon. O'Neill gallantly took all the heat and defended his views quite well. After the event concluded, I went up and thanked him for lending a voice of sanity and taking all the brickbats.
While I was doing that, a teaching colleague and friend of mine who was born in Israel and served with the IDF in combat, went up to challenge Palumbo-Liu on his statement that the State Department definition of anti-Semitism included criticism of Israel. He told Palumbo-Liu in no uncertain terms that his statement was demonstrably false. Palumbo-Liu was clearly taken aback and asked what was it he said that was false. I joined my friend, and at one point, I interjected that the definition listed specific references to Israel that could be considered anti-Semitic: Applying a double standard to Israel on human rights, and equating Israel with "Nazis". Finally, as my friend continued to give the what-for to Palumbo-Liu, the Stanford professor simply turned and retreated-no doubt in search of a safe space.