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Some ethical issues about free speech

Reader comment on item: Report on Hanan Ashrawi and Colorado College

Submitted by Irfan Khawaja (United States), Sep 19, 2002 at 22:39

I disagree strongly with the views expressed in this piece.

It is one thing to debate whether X should be invited to speak on a given campus. Perhaps some people should not be invited to speak, because they don't deserve the honor. But once an invitation has been tendered, and the speaker rises to speak, the deal is done. And once the deal is done, the operative ethical principle is clear and nearly exceptionless: the speaker has the floor for the allotted period of time. During that time, it is not legitimate to boo, hiss, make noise, raise banners, flash placards of disagreement, or do anything at all but listen quietly to the speaker until the talk is over.

It does not matter who is speaking--be it Edward Said or Benjamin Netanyahu, Hanan Ashrawi or Daniel Pipes, Meir Kahane or David Duke. The principle holds for all cases (unless there is some imminent threat of physical danger or some sort of emergency). If anyone violates this principle, they should--they must--be ejected from the premises. If they resist expulsion, they should be removed by force, then taken up on disciplinary (or legal) charges. It is much too late at that point to whine that "the speaker should never have been invited." Maybe they shouldn't have been--but they were.

If I were a university administrator--and there is some possibility that I may become one--this is the principle I would insist on. If I had been at at the college where Netanyahu was invited to speak, I would have had the anti-Israel protestors thrown out. I would have done the same to the pro-Israel protestors at Colorado who booed and distracted Ashrawi. If you can't sit there, hold still,
and shut up, you have no business being in a lecture hall--and you're violating the rights of the people who do have business there, the audience and the speaker.

There is no justification for such behavior. It is a blatant violation of rights, and a blatant violation of the norms of academic life...

I suspect that Dr. Pipes has gotten some heavy-handed treatment on college campuses himself. Instead of taking the opportunity to "stick it to the other side," why not defend the principle that such treatment is out of bounds, no matter who is being targeted?

I thought that disruption was the stock in trade of the Mario Savio-inspired academic left. I guess I was wrong.

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