Thursday, April 8, 2010
That was a harbinger of things to come. In 2004, Concordia forced cancellation of a speech by Ehud Barak because "[W]e do not at present have a locale on campus that can reasonably be made sufficiently secure for such an event." Concordia authorities covered their criminal negligence with a lot of pious verbiage, which was intended to hide their outrageous contention that it is not possible to make a university safe for a talk!
"Counter-demonstrations" and civilized protests are not effective against this sort of organized thuggery.
There is an element of rowdiness and violence in almost every political protest movement. Where do we draw the lines between legitimate protest, over-enthusiastic and angry proponents of a cause and planned hooliganism? The anti-Vietnam war protesters, for example, sometimes took over university administration buildings. Protests got pretty violent.
The line apparently runs between disruptive tactics directed at institutions and violence and disruption aimed at private individuals or groups. Organized heckling of an ambassador is ugly and wrong, but it is not the same as beating up students or heckling artists who don't represent any government, or issuing death threats against artists. Trashing a university because they cooperate with the draft is not the same either as trashing a university in order to prevent a speaker from presenting their views, and in order to send a message to students who might dare to support those views. Vietnam era protesters didn't go around beating up pro-war students.
The "protesters" are not necessarily aiming only at Israel or Jews. "Protests" that involve personal intimidation and violence seem to be intent on destroying the way democracies conduct public discourse, and the way in which multi-pluralistic societies allow for different minorities and people with different political and religious views to live and work and study and play together. They want only one opinion to be heard.
What is the correct or reasonable response to this sort of thing? What do you do when the other side doesn't play by the rules and instead starts playing by Weimar Republic street fighter rules?
Obviously, it is up to the authorities to maintain order in any way necessary, but as in the Weimar Republic, the authorities are paralyzed. Students who rioted at Concordia were not expelled or prosecuted the first time, so they were there to do it the next time. Hecklers who are only ejected politely from an auditorium after they finished their function will be back at the next event.
Likewise, in the United States, students and authorities seem to be accepting or even fostering violence and intimidation on campus. It is "fashionable" and "politically correct." The Muslim Students Union at Irvine has been carrying on a campaign of extremist anti-Israel rhetoric and intimidation for quite some time, but the authorities did nothing to stop them despite the pleas of pro-Israel students. And now, it has thus far proven impossible to get UC Irvine authorities to take disciplinary action against the students who conspired to disrupt Ambassador Oren's speech. The thugs who beat up the two Jewish activists in Canada will probably never see justice, though it would be easy enough to find them. And of course, nobody will ever find the people who issued death threats against Mira Awad.
It is common sense that the right of free speech should not protect vicious political ranting or rude outbursts at a violin concert, . It certainly does not include beating up students because someone doesn't like their opinions, or issuing death threats to artists. But nothing serious is done to deter these people.
Democratic values and those who are supposed to guard them have become like a deer frozen in the headlights of an oncoming vehicle. Authorities seem powerless to stop the hoodlums. Why? In some cases, it is mistaken support of "free speech." In other cases, there is tacit agreement with the general goals of the demonstrators, if not with the means used by them, just as there was in Nazi Germany. "Of course, the methods used by Herr Hitler are deplorable, but one must empathize with the protest of the volk over the betrayal of Germany by the Jews and the Bolsheviks. We have to understand that sometimes people may be a bit overzealous in pursuing a righteous cause."
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