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Sandro Rosell
FC Barcelona President
Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A House hearing last week may not change the world, but it may be a start

On July 27, two House subcommittees held a joint hearing on “Challenges to Freedom of Speech on College Campuses.” Congressman James Raskin (D-MD) called it “the most fascinating hearing” he's attended during his six months in office. It was fascinating, for what it brought out both about the alarming reality of American higher education today and about the determination of some people on the left to deny or obscure that reality.

That determination was on display from the outset. Val Demings (D-FL), a black woman and former police chief of Jacksonville, professed to recognize the problem on U.S. campuses and to be a strong defender of the First Amendment. But she was quick to insist that the real “clear and present danger” on campuses doesn't  involve the shutting down of “high-profile speakers like Ann Coulter” but “the increase in white supremacist hate groups.” She recounted a recent incident at American University in Washington, D.C., where somebody hung bananas on nooses from trees, apparently a racist response to the election of a female black student, Taylor Dumpson, as student-government president. Dumpson, who sat in the audience at the hearing, had also been the target of “cyberbullying” that Demings characterized as “unprotected hate speech.” The real problem on campuses, Deming concluded, is “criminal acts being wrapped in banners of free speech.”

The banana incident would come up again several times during the nearly three-hour-long hearing, even though this isolated event had nothing to do with the actual topic of the hearing.

At one point during the hearing, one of the Democratic members complained that the Republicans had picked four of the five persons giving testimony. This was surprising, because only one of those five, Ben Shapiro, is a self-identified Republican or conservative, and three of the others – Nadine Strossen, a law professor and former head of the ACLU; Michael Zimmerman, former provost at Evergreen State College in Oregon (setting of the current controversy surrounding Professor Bret Weinstein); and Frederick Lawrence, National Commissioner at the Anti-Defamation League – were largely in denial about the extent to which American colleges are dominated by authoritarian leftists. Yes, they all repeatedly, if sometimes vaguely, expressed support for free speech, rejected “safe spaces” and “free-speech zones,” and agreed that even “hate speech” should be permissible as long as it did not shade over into “hate crime.” But they also made troubling assertions.

Strossen, for example, testified that she, the ACLU, and the Southern Poverty Law Center are “all on the same page” when it comes to these matters. Well, if she's on the same page as the ACLU, which condemned the YouTube video mendaciously blamed by Obama and Hillary for the Benghazi killings, and the SPLC, which is a far-left smear machine masquerading as a human-rights organization (and which has named the David Horowitz Freedom Center as a hate group), game over. Asked by Jim Jordan (R-OH) if most efforts to shut down free speech have been aimed at conservatives, Strossen was at first only willing to admit that this was true of “most of the well-publicized” cases. When pressed, she admitted that, well, yes, most people on campuses are on the left, and the majority of victims are, indeed, non-leftists.

Zimmerman, for his part, denied that most American professors seek to propagandize for leftist views or punish conservative ones. “Very rarely,” he said, do professors force their own ideologies on students. Lawrence agreed. He also concurred with Demings on the supreme danger of “white supremacists,” who, he said, “are engaged in unprecedented outreach” on campuses. Examples were not forthcoming, except for repeated references to the banana incident. Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC), to his credit, took on Lawrence's “kumbaya opening testimony,” noting that Lawrence had been president of Brandeis University when plans to award Ayaan Hirsi Ali an honorary degree were canceled. Meadows asked Lawrence if this had been a correct decision; Lawrence said yes, but insisted it had nothing to do with free speech. Hirsi Ali, he explained, had once said “that Islam should be crushed.” For Lawrence, apparently, that speech act had been so hateful that it went beyond mere speech.

Ben Shapiro proved a refreshing relief from these three participants' equivocation and logic-chopping. He got right to the point: at many colleges, speech rights are distributed in accordance with how many victim groups one belongs to. “Offensive” language that challenges left-wing victimology is viewed as equivalent to physical violence – thus justifying actual violence in response. When that violence does erupt, administrators “look the other way” because they share the perpetrators' ideology. 

Shapiro had an illuminating back-and-forth with Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands), a black woman who repeated at length the details of the banana incident – which had already been recounted exhaustively – and who began a sentence by saying: “Free speech is important, but....” (Later, Robin Kelly [D-IL], a former “diversity trainer” at Bradley University, echoed her almost verbatim: “I agree with free speech and all that, but....”) Citing “Critical Race Theory” – a nonsensical so-called discipline that seeks to give academic legitimacy to obsessive anti-white prejudice – Plaskett asked Shapiro about his “white privilege.” He forcefully shot her down, saying that charges of “white privilege” have no basis in reality and do not amount to “a rational political argument.” I quote Plaskett's response verbatim: “Well, I think it's a demonstrable evidence that through society's demographics that being white has societal privileges that being black does not.”

 (Front Page Mag)

(To Be Continued Next Week)

By: Bruce Bawer