EDITORIAL: Petition to silence Daftari is arguable
Preventing speech may lead to undesirable precedent
Lisa Daftari, an investigative journalist and political analyst, is scheduled to speak at Rutgers on Oct. 16. at an event called “Radicalism on College Campuses." Daftari is a first generation American from Iran whose work focuses on Middle Eastern foreign affairs and counter-terrorism. Though by no means unqualified, her views are undoubtedly controversial and are interpreted by some as being hateful toward people of Muslim faith. As a result of this view, a Rutgers student recently started a petition to prevent Daftari from coming to the University to speak. By now, the has more than 1,000 signatures.
As advertised, Daftari will be addressing “radicalism on college campuses” in her speech. In a sense, this advertisement is problematic in and of itself. Being that Daftari’s work focuses around the Middle East, and in most cases Islam, it is not all that far-fetched to say that an advertisement of hers mentioning radicalism on campus may very well be referring to what has been called, “radical Islam.” In that way, the advertisement may seem to paint an untruthful image of Muslim members of our community.
But Daftari, being a reasonably successful journalist, has a significant amount of experience in her field. Though controversial, she comes to Rutgers not to spew hate and illogical ideas, but with a well prepared and well thought-out argument. There are certain public figures who are blatantly racist and bigoted and who the University would take care not to endorse, especially with its students' tuition. But Daftari in reality does not seem to be outright bigoted, though she may be arguably misinformed and ignorant to some. The fact of the matter is that Daftari’s speech, in all likelihood, will be far from provoking violence or a lack of safety on campus. In fact, the petition to prevent her from speaking may very well cause more harm than good.
The petition is contrary to the productive nature of academic freedom and free speech in general, and there are more effective ways to have addressed this situation.
One effective way to address the situation would have been to simply ignore the fact that she is coming to the University, and maybe even urge one’s friends to do the same. By doing that, less attention would be brought to Daftari’s disagreeable viewpoints. The commotion brought by the petition merely works as another advertisement.
Another more reasonable way to address the situation would be to attend her speech and provide counter arguments. If one thinks she is equating Muslims to radicals, then a good way to combat that view would be to publicly respond and provide reasons why she is wrong. In fact, in a regarding this petition, Daftari stated that she welcomes and embraces difference of opinion.
But simply silencing Daftari by way of petition sets a dangerous precedent and comes with undesirable consequences. If in the future the same students who support the petition to silence Daftari wish to express their own controversial viewpoints and bring their own controversial speaker to campus, they could very well be subject to the same sort of petition.
For those students who may feel unsafe or targeted by Daftari's invitation, this feeling is not invalid. These are real concerns that should be brought to the University and it is then up to the administration to instate the necessary safety measures for these students. But disallowing Daftari from speaking will not alleviate the situation.
In the end, a university is a place of public discourse, where remarkably educated and intelligent people share viewpoints, counter viewpoints and attempt to uncover truth and knowledge. How are we expected to come to conclusions regarding complex issues when we only take one side into consideration, no matter how ignorant the other side may seem? The University does well to keep its students safe as well as promote diversity, and that is clear. But diversity comes in many different forms, and intellectual diversity is just as important as any on a college campus.
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