EDITORIAL: Cancellation may bolster argument
‘Radicalism’ as topic of speech was questionable
Some of Rutgers’ main values are diversity and inclusion, and the encouragement of communal support no matter one’s creed or color — we want to protect members of our community against hate and prejudice. As an institution of higher education and advanced research, though, our community also seeks to promote academic freedom and serious intellectual discourse. At this point in time, it seems clear that those two values are clashing.
It appears the petition to prevent Rutgers alumna Lisa Daftari — a journalist and political analyst whose work focuses on Middle Eastern foreign affairs and counter-terrorism — from speaking at the University has succeeded. The administration has indefinitely postponed the talk set for Oct. 16, which was to be given as part of the Undergraduate Academic Affairs (UAA) Speaker Series. Daftari’s talk was titled and centered around “Radicalism on College Campuses,” and though we are unsure exactly what she would have said and what her idea of “radicalism” would have referred to, it seems we can make an educated guess.
On Twitter, Daftari disclosed an email from a representative of the UAA, which seems to show that the idea for the talk to focus on radicalization was not Daftari’s, but rather came from a member of the University’s administration. In the email, the administrator states that they had been watching clips of Daftari online, and found one from 2013 where she briefly speaks about “radicalism on college campuses,” to be particularly interesting. The video clip being referred to is likely the one entitled, “Lisa Daftari Talks New Worry About Radicalization on College Campuses with Neil Cavuto,” which took place on Fox News in the wake of the Boston bombings. It is important to note that in speaking about radicalization on college campuses in the video, Daftari exclusively refers to Muslim students. Though this video was put out in 2013, it is not unreasonable to assume that the views she held then with regard to Islam and radicalism on college campuses have not shifted much.
Anti-Muslim sentiments, though probably rare, are not imaginary in the Rutgers community. And with that said, it is not far-fetched to think that the theories Daftari would have brought up in her talk might have worked to empower those who already harbor those anti-Muslim sentiments — maybe creating more unnecessary tension on campus. But now that Daftari has been silenced, it seems those who hold such sentiments are empowered anyway. Those who started the petition have arguably only worked to bolster their opposition’s argument, giving them a reference to perhaps correlate radicalism with Muslim members of the Rutgers community.
In the end, the more prudent course of action would have been to refrain from the creation of the petition and to allow Daftari to speak, as the answer to disagreeable speech should seemingly always be more speech. But part of the blame also falls on the University, or at least one member of the administration. Knowing full well of Daftari’s controversial ideas regarding perceived radical Islam on college campuses and her conflation of radicalism with Muslim students, she was still encouraged to speak on those issues here.
If the goal of the UAA’s Speaker Series is to present the student body with diverse perspectives that foster frank and free discussion, then a better way of doing so may have been to include Daftari on a panel of experts with diverse opinions on free speech and radicalism, such that the student body can both watch a democratic debate of conflicting views and then engage in the discussion through questioning. But the knee-jerk response to a controversial viewpoint should not be to silence, but rather to understand, debate and refute.
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