Intellectual Graffiti

A group of Muslim students last week harassed the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. as he tried to give a talk at the University of California in Irvine.

The speaker —Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States— was repeatedly forced to stop his talk. He pleaded for the right to continue, and continued. University administrators lectured the students and asked them to let Oren speak. In the end, 11 students were arrested and they may also face charges of violating university rules.
It was many more than eleven who eventually got up and left in the middle of Oren's speech.
Those who interrupted Oren, not surprisingly, are strong critics of Israel who believe that they must draw attention to the Palestinian cause. But an argument put forward by some national Muslim leaders in the last week has sent the discussion in a new direction. Those groups maintain that interrupting a campus speech — even repeatedly — should be seen as a protected form of speech.
Think of it as Freedom of un-Speech.
"The students voiced political views to shame the representative of a foreign government embroiled in controversy for its outrageous violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. Delivering this message in a loud and shocking manner expressed the gravity of the charges leveled against Israeli policies, and falls within the purview of protected speech," said a letter released by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Or, how about the Freedom to Harass - there's one for an activist court!
That statement followed one by Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which said: "These students had the courage and conscience to stand up against aggression, using peaceful means. We cannot allow our educational institutions to be used as a platform to threaten and discourage students who choose to practice their First Amendment right."
The protesters fail to see the obvious. If freedom of speech includes the right to disrupt someone else's freedom of speech, then there's no freedom of speech. Cary Nelson, national president of the American Association of University Professors, says he has no problem with limited disruption of speech as a form of free speech, but also offers an example of how silence might be more powerful.
Nelson said that one of the most moving and effective protests he ever attended was as an undergraduate at Antioch College in the early 1960s. George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party, was the speaker. No one shouted at him, although the students considered him hateful. "The audience was totally silent and then, during the question period, no one would ask him a question and he began cursing at the audience, but no one would speak," Nelson said. "To me it was incredibly moving because of the solidarity of the audience, and of the possibility of a certain kind of silent witness," he said. Nelson said he wished more protests today used such an approach in which opposition is totally clear but no one tries to stop the talk.
In my mind, universities have a responsibility to make sure that presenters have a chance to present, without harassment. This sort of protest is too easy, giving the power to censor the free exchange of ideas to anyone, and amounts to nothing more than intellectual vandalism.
A pro-Islamic group is urging UC Irvine to drop disciplinary actions against a group of students who were arrested after protesting the Israeli ambassador’s presence on campus by intermittently interrupting him during a speech last week.
If you're the university president, how do you resist throwing these kids out of school?
“We feel this is a campus event. It was noncriminal, nonviolent and nonthreatening,” said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR’s Greater Los Angeles Area office. “Off-campus police should not be involved in such matters. The D.A.’s office shouldn’t be involved in such matters. It was just a bunch of students who spoke out at a student event.”
I disagree.