Banning Speakers: “Tolerance” versus free speech, take 622

by Andrew E. Kurtzman on December 5, 2009

See if this sounds familiar, from the New York Daily News earlier this week:

“At Princeton, she was to be the guest of a pro-Israel student group. But then, according to published reports, Muslim students took offense at her presence, a campus imam interceded with a campus rabbi and a leader of the sponsoring organization suddenly thought better of hosting the talk. He apologized for inviting someone such as Darwish and begged pardon for having done a poor job of researching her views.”

Yes, once again, Nonie Darwish has been uninvited to speaking engagements at Ivy League universities – this time Princeton and Columbia. (The latter of which was, of course, happy to serve as a platform for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.)

What, incidentally, are Darwish’s extremely controversial views? She believes Islamic countries oppress women and indoctrinate their children with hatred for outsiders. As a result, she renounced her faith, and wrote a book entitled: “Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel and the War on Terror.”

If this story sounds familiar, it is because virtually the same events happened at Brown in 2007. Darwish was scheduled to speak, having been invited by Brown Hillel. After protests by various student groups, primarily the Muslim Student Association, Hillel decided to withdraw funding, effectively uninviting her. Unlike Princeton and Columbia, however, Brown’s administration interceded:

“Russell Carey ‘91 MA’06, interim vice president for campus life and student services, said his office decided to sponsor the event after it was clear the speech would not go forward otherwise. ‘The whole purpose of a university is to have free and open exchange of ideas, particularly those that students initiate and develop,’ Carey said.”

Yes, from time to time, Brown gets it spot-on right. Darwish’s speech had its share of rhetorical fireworks, and not everyone in the audience took it well. However, there were many excellent, polite, and considered questions (especially, I should note, from the members of Brown’s Muslim Student’s Association). Everyone in attendance carried away a lot to think about. And no one, certainly, was worse for it.

Students, believe it or not, can handle difficult ideas. This is, after all, the virtue of intellectual diversity. Darwish has interesting and insightful ideas, even if they are controversial in some circles; Columbia and Princeton would do well to reconsider.

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