My Disrupted Talk at UC-Berkeley
by Daniel Pipes
I spoke on February 10 at the University of California-Berkeley to a crowd of about 550; a sizeable number could not get in. As I had expected, this was the most out-of-control talk of the roughly one thousand I have given, with a core group of about 150 Islamists, Palestinian radicals, and far-leftists constantly disrupting me, mostly with insults that I would prefer to forget.
The best and fullest account of the event is by Cinnamon Stillwell, "Fascism at UC Berkeley: Muslim Student Association Disrupts Daniel Pipes Lecture," at ChronWatch. There are over 200 comments on it – some from persons who attended the event – at "Daniel Pipes at UC Berkeley," LittleGreenFootballs.com. (For first-hand accounts, see comments #27, 28, 86, 94, 107, 125, 126, 135, and 214) One person ("zombie") has posted pictures of the event. (For zombie's narrative of the pictures, see #145 at the LittleGreenFootballs.com site.) In addition, the school paper, the Daily Californian, covered the event in an article titled "Staunch Israel Backer Attacks 'Militant' Islam."
The videotape that my hosts were supposed to make of this event did not happen, so before commenting in any depth on what happened I am waiting to get hold of one of the several others made that evening. For the moment, suffice to say that the vice-chancellor of the university present at this event, plus the UC police arrayed at it in large numbers, both showed weakness in permitting the disruptors to dominate. I should not have been subjected to this treatment. To make matters worse, none of the offenders was arrested. I shake my head with dismay at this; and a second time on recalling that UC-Berkeley is a taxpayer-funded institution.
And this observation: The same Muslim Student Association which is under federal investigation for financing terrorism and perpetuating violence and had a direct role in disrupting my talk (as outlined in an e-mail dated Feb. 10 from "sajidah the berkeley girl") is sponsoring at Berkeley on February 13-15, 2004 a conference titled "Liberation Through Islam." Two items here are worthy of note: the session on "Preparing to Die" and the "special live talk from prison by Imam Jamil Al-Amin." Al-Amin, for those unfamiliar with the name, is a convicted cop-killer; but at Berkeley he is fêted as a distinguished speaker. (February 12, 2004)
Feb. 17, 2004 update: Several more articles have appeared on this event:
In addition, the national campus director of Students for Academic Freedom, Sara Dogan, wrote an open letter to the vice chancellor of UC-Berkeley, John Cummins (who, as I noted above, was present at the talk).
It's interesting to note that my opponents appear not to have written anything on this incident; I guess it's not exactly something they are proud of.
Feb. 26, 2004 update: Robert M. Berdahl, chancellor of the University of California-Berkeley, sent this letter in response to a protest about the way the university handled my talk:
February 26, 2004
I would like to respond to your inquiry about the recent lecture of Daniel Pipes on the campus.
The University faculty or some student groups occasionally have invited controversial speakers to the campus. We believe it is important to have all points of view expressed, regardless of the likelihood of criticism that ensues from those who hold opposing viewpoints. When Daniel Pipes was invited by Hillel to speak, we anticipated that pro-Palestinian students would use the occasion to protest, and we planned accordingly.
When we hold an event on campus that we can reasonably anticipate will produce heckling and potential interruptions, our purpose is to assure that the speaker is able to deliver his or her message and complete his or her speech. We can neither insist that only those who agree with the speaker attend, nor can we silence those who attend and disagree with the speaker. We can and do require that anyone who interrupts a speaker leave the event, if necessary at the insistence of the police. We took such action at the Pipes speech.
As the Daily Californian noted in its coverage:
"Throughout the speech, a handful of loud commentators were escorted outside by the police, and a large faction of Pro-Palestinian students made a dramatic exit toward the end of Pipes' speech. Pipes' supporters often shouted back for those students to listen. And somewhere in between, the moderate Jews, Muslims and community members said they found little resonance in Pipes' words and even less of an opportunity for real discussion."
Did the campus meet its obligation to preserve the right of a speaker to present his or her message? I believe it did. The article from The Front Page [Magazine] concludes with the observation: "The audience gave Pipes a standing ovation with loud cheers at the conclusion of his speech."
Uncivil behavior, lamentable as it is, is not a crime, nor is it a violation of the Code of Student Conduct. No matter how ugly and hurtful may be the comments of those who dissent from the opinions of the speaker, those comments are also protected by the First Amendment, and they are punishable only when those who make them refuse to leave when asked to do so by the police.
I do wish to take exception to Mr. Pipes' comments about the Muslim Student Association at Berkeley and our Center for Middle Eastern Studies. He implied that funding for these organizations can be linked to terrorist groups and that funding originating in Saudi Arabia for the Center for Middle Eastern Studies somehow corrupts the research conducted there. Such allegations are inaccurate, without foundation, insulting, and intentionally provocative.
I hope you can appreciate how difficult these situations can be, how important it is for us to respect both the rights of speakers and the rights of dissenters. We are not perfect, but I submit that, on the whole, we handle it reasonably well.
Robert M. Berdahl
In reply to the chancellor's taking exception to my comments:
Before labeling my words "inaccurate, without foundation, insulting, and intentionally provocative," Mr. Berdahl would do well to do just a smidgen of research. That used to be, anyway, the sort of thing that universities engaged in.
Feb. 29, 2004 update: Jeanie Kennedy has posted an interesting account of the event.
May 19, 2004 update: Emeryville's East Bay Express has a long and unexpectedly sympathetic cover story by Anneli Rufus titled "Berkeley Intifada: As students embrace the Palestinian cause, UC Berkeley has lost whatever reputation it may once have had for tolerance," in which my talk features prominently.
June 30, 2004 update: Sara Dogan's letter to Vice Chancelor Cummins was noted in the Feb. 17 update above; today, she posts her entire correspondence with Mr. Cummins, with commentary, under the evocative title "Coddling Campus Fascists."
Dec. 5, 2006 update: Nearly three years after the event, one of its more unexpected ramifications is explained by the anonymous blogger and photographer who goes by the name "zombie," one of whose pictures is posted above. Interviewed by David D. Perlmutter, professor in the journalism school at the University of Kansas, about her important work, which focuses on photographs of left-wing demonstrations in the San Francisco area, Zombie explains how she took up this avocation:
Apr. 30, 2008 update: I made my first public appearance yesterday at UC-Berkeley since the fracas four years ago, speaking on a panel sponsored by the Ayn Rand Institute that included Victor Davis Hanson and Yaron Brook. The event was extremely heavily policed, attracted an audience of about two hundred – and prompted not a single hostile question, much less an act of disruption. Pictures and atmospherics can be found at ProtestShooter.com and Zombietime.com. (On "Zombie," see the preceding update.)
Toward the end of the panel, repying to an audience member who noted that this was one of several recent examples of conservatives giving talks at the university without troubles, I asked if any in the audience had been at my 2004 talk and about fifteen hands went up. I went on to express my gratitude at the completely different atmosphere and to wonder whether this was part of a larger trend. (I have not been disrupted in over six months now, not since my Wayne State University talk in early October 2007.)
Jan. 15, 2009 update: Blogger Jolie Rouge notes at "A speech-free bubble around Bill Ayers" the contrast in policies by university administrations for William Ayers, unrepentant terrorist, versus that meted out to Michelle Malkin and myself. When Ayers spoke recently at Florida State University, the campus police moved protestors from the building he was to speak in and corralled them in an Orwellian-sounding "free-speech zone." Jolie Rouge contrasts this delicate treatment with the roughing up of audiences at Malkin's and my talks at UC-Berkeley, with pictures.
Comment: This fits a pattern which I already pointed to at "John Esposito's Very Special Security," whereby those favored by the school administrators benefit from a security coddling that we who are not do not.
May 16, 2014 update: Over a decade has passed, and still this disrupted talk gets mentioned. In "First Amendment Hypocrisy: Muslims and Israel," Abraham H. Miller (emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati) recaps the longer description he wrote at the time of the talk:
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