August 17, 2019 | 84° F

MAENNER: Deplatforming of Daftari is illiberal

Opinions Column: Maenner's Musings


As a result of a student-led petition produced last week, Rutgers Undergraduate Academic Affairs (UAA) has officially canceled the appearance of foreign policy journalist, Lisa Daftari, due to perceived Islamophobia in a speech she gave to The Heritage Foundation regarding Islamic terrorism. But, the perpetuation of deplatforming as a response to speakers with unpopular ideas not only runs contrary to the “cultural and religious diversity” that the petition purports to uphold, but also runs fundamentally in opposition to the liberal values and principles this nation was founded upon. 

In the past I have expressed my concern for the safety of liberal mores in lieu of the pervasive nature of Right-wing populism in the Western world, yet this account of the threats toward liberalism would not be complete without recognizing the budding danger being posed by the reactionary Left. Most prominent on college campuses, this section of the Left promotes progressive causes through illiberal means, denouncing individual identities in favor of group identities and restricting the expression of ideas it deems to be offensive to certain protected sections of the population, no matter the validity or factual basis of the argument. 

Sadly, the rise of what some have come to call the “regressive Left” has marred political discourse on the Left, painting with broad strokes when using pejorative terminology to label dissenters and even resorting to violence in some instances, such as the riots that broke out on the campus of UC Berkeley in response to a scheduled appearance by Right-wing provocateur, Milo Yiannopoulos, in 2017. In its effort to respond and fight back against perceived threats to progressive causes, this reactionary segment of the Left has largely done more harm than good, diminishing its standing through ad hominem attacks and infringements of the civil rights of conservative speakers, rather than engaging in a thoughtful discourse where opposing viewpoints can be disarmed through reason.

Though on its face the petition to deplatform Daftari may garner some sympathy, the means through which it aims to achieve its goals are short-sighted and self-defeating. If what the Muslim Public Relations Council said about Daftari is true — that she “perpetuates irrational, baseless and simply dangerous opinions about the religion of Islam” — then the most effective means through which to disarm these ideas is by proving them to be fallacious. In a liberal society, only reason can trump bad ideas. Especially in the interconnected digital age we live in now, the act of combating ideas by restricting their expression is akin to trying to put out a grease fire with water. Though it is easy to see why one would think restricting the expression of certain ideas would inhibit their growth, the truth is that the backlash to this practice only spreads the message further. If banning books has long been an ineffective means of removing speech from the public conscious, why would restricting oral expression of ideas be any different? 

If the true intentions of those who sponsored and signed the petition to remove Daftari from speaking was to protect Muslims from the potential consequences of her supposed dangerous beliefs, then this method of doing so serves as the most backward way of achieving these ends. Instead of proving her to be an enemy of liberal values, she has been made out to be a martyr for free speech. As a result of the sympathy and additional publicity afforded to her, those who sponsored and signed the petition have only aided in spreading her ideas — regardless of whether they are radical or reasonable.

The effect of the petition to deplatform Daftari — and the subsequent submission to these radical forces by the Rutgers administration — only serves to chill free expression on campus and runs contrary to the purpose of a liberal arts education. Furthermore, additional inspection of the petition’s contents shows that it misquotes Daftari, claiming that she equated radical Islamic terrorism with the Quran, when she actually warned that it is these radical elements which attempt to do just this. Coincidentally, Daftari’s talk was set to be about free speech on college campuses, but the reaction that has now led to the cancellation of the event shows the sorry state of discourse found on our campus at this moment in time. 

For this reason, I believe it is paramount that the Rutgers administration, in accordance with the student body, works to protect civil rights and civil liberties of all students and speakers on campus. Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once posited that “It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.” Thus, we must all strive to preserve free speech both on campus and in the world in general. For if we fail to do so, we are only standing in the way of our own progress and enlightenment. 

Hunter Maenner is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in criminal justice and political science. His column, "Maenner's Musings," runs on alternate Mondays.


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Hunter Maenner

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