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COLUMN

How Much Free Speech is Left?

Guest Column
Robert F. Eaton, Jr.

I want nothing more than to avoid the quagmire of the Jubran controversy, yet we can’t seem to go a week on this campus without an editorial or letter perpetuating this non-issue. The degree of uproar over the veracity of columns published is entirely unwarranted. Surely, MIT students aren’t the most politically astute group out there, but they know better than to take as fact what they read in the opinion section of their student newspaper. Let Katz call Jubran a terrorist [“Palestinian Activist Rightfully Targeted,” Dec. 3], and let Steinberger imply that Katz is the puppet of a right-wing conspiracy [“Accusations Unfair,” Dec. 10] -- neither is true. Melodrama plays well on daytime television, less so in a publication geared towards intellectuals.

That having been said, I want to voice my agreement with the contention that there is an effort underway “on U.S. campuses to shut down dissent.” Indeed, we are seeing “a new wave of suppression of free speech across the country.” The source of this suppression, however, is not Zionists or right-wingers, but the very people who claim to be its victim, the activist Left, and this problem extends from the pillars of the Democratic Party all the way down to the peons of campus politics.

Had his critics launched a reasoned assault on the logic of Mr. Katz’s letter, rather than fill their column with political hyperbole and conspiracy theories, they would have concluded that the source of the problem was that his position confuses the support or rejection of a policy affecting a certain group of people with feelings about the people themselves. That Amer Jubran expresses solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle against Israel, a struggle which includes terrorist actions, does not alone make him a terrorist -- end of story.

The problem arises, however, when one examines the precedent set regarding these issues, and if the above misconception is not avoided in other political contexts. We discover, alas, that not only is it prevalent throughout the arguments put forth by his left-leaning antagonists, but that this prevalence is the result of a wanton attempt to discredit their critics through, essentially, intimidation. These people represent the real danger to free speech in America. Through emotionally charged language, accusations of discrimination, and character assassination, the Left summarily dismisses any view besides their own as racist, xenophobic, et cetera. This approach, by playing upon emotion rather than reason, has succeeded in allowing the Left to portray anyone dissenting from their opinions as ethically flawed, thus ending any legitimate debate. The result: if you disagree with the Left, you had better stay silent lest you become a campus pariah.

Witness the activist-Left’s positions on and criticisms of myriad issues, and the pattern becomes embarrassingly clear. Those who support tougher immigration laws are labeled as xenophobes, despite the genuine philosophical belief that might underlay that support. People who support Zionism or oppose the right of return have the term racist thrust upon them, even if the source of their belief has nothing to do with the religious/ethnic issues involved. A similar fate befalls those who don’t believe in affirmative action, or support a war with Iraq, or any number of other positions that oppose those of the Left. The tactic of deliberately confusing opposition or support of policies that affect a group with hatred of the group itself has become the norm, and is used to silence dissenters who don’t believe in the overwhelmingly liberal agenda present on America’s college campuses.

If the problem of the silencing of dissent through this malevolent tactic existed only on the microcosm of college campuses I would not be too concerned, but more prominent figures in the liberal establishment have been making similar accusations against conservatives, brining this shameful tactic into the mainstream. Fox News has been accused by Al Gore of being “part and parcel of the Republican party,” a disingenuous statement meant to pigeonhole Fox as a cadre of right-wing fanatics. Similarly, Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) accused Rush Limbaugh of putting the Senator’s family in danger and fomenting hatred through his criticism. These two incidents are emblematic of an effort by liberals to paint their critics as fanatics, racists, misogynists -- whatever it takes to convince the American public that conservative views are unworthy of debate. Thankfully, the mainstream media has rightly dismissed these comments as whining from people unwilling or unable to confront the issues.

Further examples of the hypocrisy of the Left on the issue of free speech on campus are numerous, ranging from intimidation of Jewish protesters at Berkeley to the relentless efforts to prevent James Wolfensohn from speaking at MIT, but I find one to be particularly telling. The English department of an Ivy League university invited a speaker who had expressed publicly his opinion that Israeli and American settlers on the West Bank deserved to be shot. One of the foremost defenses of his right to speak came from an unlikely source -- a pro-Israel professor who, while rejecting the speaker’s opinions, nonetheless supported his right to speak. This very same professor, however, is currently the subject of a lawsuit by a left-leaning legal group for an article he published advocating an aggressive Israeli strategy, an opinion which they believe should get him disbarred and censured.

It is nothing short of absurd that Leftists should claim to be victims of free speech suppression, when it is they themselves, through their actions and strategies, who do the most to silence dissent and quell debate on college campuses. Through the deceptive technique of equating opposition to a policy and hatred of a people, they attempt to subvert legitimate ideological positions through irrational appeals. But this strategy is not without its logical consequences. For, if supporting Israel makes one a racist, if advocating immigration reform makes one a xenophobe, if believing in an invasion of Iraq makes one an imperialist, then I ask, what does being vehemently anti-Israel make all of them? I’ll hope it merely makes them hypocrites.

Robert F. Eaton, Jr., is a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry.