Elementary free speech rights are under assault at college campuses throughout the country, particularly in relation to students advocating for the rights of Palestinians. A lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights calls it “extremely chilling.” Inside Higher Ed reports on one of the most recent examples:
“Florida Atlantic University this spring: an Israeli speaker gave a presentation on campus, and pro-Palestinian students protested. But the way they protested — by interrupting his talk — has renewed a debate over free speech.The protest occurred during a presentation on April 19 by Israeli Col. Bentzi Gruber titled “Ethics in the Field: An Inside Look at the Israel Defense Forces,” when five members of the FAU Students for Justice in Palestine unfurled a banner that read “WAR CRIMINAL” and accused Israeli troops of committing war crimes. The students were escorted out, then continued their protest outside the venue as the event proceeded, according to a police report.
The office of student conduct quickly launched an investigation into the protest. The process concluded this month when the students signed an agreement that would keep the protest from becoming a permanent mark on their records. In return, the students accepted sanctions ranging from probation until graduation and a ban on holding leadership positions to attending diversity training programs and community service.”
The case has stirred some debate on how to draw the line between protected free speech and infringement on the speech rights of others. The director of something called the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project at the University of Florida contends that the students were not within their rights to interrupt the speaker. “The idea is that we do not allow under the First Amendment a heckler’s reaction to a speech to silence the speech …. The remedy for speech we do not like is to add more speech to the market place. That does not mean interrupting.” However, as the CCR representative pointed out, a two minute protest is hardly preventing speech from the podium from being heard.
Which is not of course to say that there cannot be protests against speakers which cross the line into infringing upon a scheduled speaker’s rights. The October 2006 interruption of an anti-immigrant demagogue speaking at Columbia University may be a case in point. The protest was a gift to reactionaries like Bill O’Reilly who used it to broadly paint leftists as anti-free speech. The protesters – who were surely well-intentioned kids – actually mounted the stage to unfurl their banners and approach the speaker. Predictably in the charged atmosphere in the room, the speakers’ supporters then also rushed the stage, creating a melee and the canceling the rest of the event. University moves to discipline the students were not defensible, but it was hardly a fine moment for free speech. Among the organizing groups was the ISO, which as an organization, has no respect for the freedom of speech it detests (racism, etc), thus nullifying the principle.
The influential liberal WaPo columnist Harold Meyerson has an OpEd yesterday pointing out that Jim Messina, “the campaign manager of President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign and the chairman of his ongoing grass-roots lobbying operation,” is now consulting for the reelection effort of Britain’s David Cameron, the Tory prime minister. Meyerson explores this as a contradiction in agendas (a liberal agenda on the Obama side, and a conservative one across the Atlantic) but it seems more reasonable to see it as yet another affirmation of the essential sameness of the two business parties, both here and in the UK. These people are the technocratic masters, the “New Mandarins” of the ruling class. To the extent that any of them hew consistently to liberal or conservative factions, it merely indicates the extent to which they’re drinking their own Kool-Aid.
A former ambassador of Ethiopia, Imru Zelleke, has published an open letter to John Kerry calling for the U.S. to change its policies towards its allied government in Ethiopia.
Zelleke notes that “In the past two decades , for reasons deemed to be of US national interests, the ruling regime in Ethiopia has enjoyed the unbound political and economic support of the United States, in spite of its blatant violations of human rights, lawless governance, unmitigated corruption and overall misdeeds with complete disregard to the very principles that the US advocates.” He proclaims, “It is time for the United States to stand with the people instead of supporting armed criminal political regimes.” Unfortunately, short of considerably increased attention (presently at nil) upon the situation in Ethiopia, there is little prospect of a policy change in Washington.
Pierre Sané, a long-serving former secretary general of Amnesty International, is heralding the importance of Hissene Habre finally facing justice. Sane’s home country of Senegal is, he notes, “providing an example to the world” by at long last putting Habre in the dock. Habre, who killed 40,000 people, was an old buddy of the Reagan Administration. Of course, we’ve heard virtually nothing about Habre’s case here in the U.S. Until recently, Sane observes, deposed dictators like Mobutu and Duvalier led peaceful lives in the European Rivieras or went on shopping sprees in London as Pinochet did. Indeed, it is worth noting that it was not the ICC that pursued Habre. Sane writes:
“Mais pour l’instant, ayons foi dans les magistrats et accordons toute notre confiance à une initiative si admirable. Qui aurait pu prédire, voilà quelques années, qu’une telle percée viendrait d’Afrique ? Il y a peu pourtant, des tyrans chassés du pouvoir ont pu couler des jours paisibles sur les « rivieras européennes », comme Mobutu ou Duvalier, ou encore faire tranquillement leur shopping à Londres, comme Pinochet – avant, il est vrai, qu’il soit enfin arrêté… pour être très vite relâché pour « raisons de santé ». Et voilà qu’aujourd’hui le Sénégal donne l’exemple au monde entier en s’acquittant de ses obligations internationales de solidarité envers les victimes.”