Denmark debates Muhammad art in textbooks

Denmark is debating printing Muhammad cartoons in text books and requiring social studies teachers to explain why the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten ran the cartoons in 2005, reports the Washington Post.

This was the most controversial of the "Muhammed cartoons" run in 2005 by a Danish newspaper.

This was the most controversial of the 2005 Muhammed cartoons printed in 2005 in a Danish newspaper.

Weeks ago, a gunman opened fire, killing one man, at a Copenhagen cafe hosting cartoonist Lars Vilks, who drew Muhammed as a dog in 2007.

Months ago, French journalists were murdered at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, known for its depictions of Muhammad.

Children need to learn about the cartoons, wrote Mai Mercado, a spokesman for the right-wing Conservative Party, in  Jyllands-Posten: “No matter how strong one’s religious feelings are, or how much one cultivates their religion, you do not earn the right to violence or threats.”

Recruited by the thought police

I was recruited by the thought police, writes Suzy Lee Weiss, a University of Michigan student, for her hometown Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Posters on campus urge students to “Stop. Think.” before speaking lest they commit a “micro-aggression,” she writes. The Inclusive Language Campaign asks students to sign a pledge. “We’re all being drafted as thought police, charged with regulating the speech of our peers,” she writes.

Operating under ILC’s logic, I am hostile for offering a cupcake to a diabetic without knowing of his condition, racist for suggesting we “work the kinks out” on a group project and generally insensitive for having an opinion on any subject that I have not directly experienced.

I guess I can’t write that paper on Homer this weekend: I wasn’t there to witness the violence of the Trojan War.

At mandatory assemblies, new students are taught that “wishing someone a merry Christmas is a micro-aggression,” she writes.

Yet actual aggression is tolerated.

Earlier this semester, my friend Omar Mahmood was fired from the campus paper for writing a satirical essay making fun of political correctness on campus. Apparently that wasn’t enough punishment for some of his fellow students, who threw raw hotdogs and eggs at his door and left profanity-laced notes telling him to “shut the … up” and that “Everyone hates you, you violent …,” among other acts of ugliness. So much for inclusivity.

Thus far, nothing has happened to the vandals despite their being caught on camera. The school has not issued an apology or a press release. And Omar still can’t write for the paper because he refused to apologize.

Politically correct students, professors and administrators are silencing debate on campus, Weiss argues.

She proposes the “Don’t Be an Idiot Campaign.” It would tell college students that “some people are bigots” and others may hurt their feelings inadvertently.AsianFINAL2

I checked out the ILC Facebook page, which tells students what party costumes are OK (Fonzie, Super Mario Brothers) and which are not. It turns out that some people might be offended if you dress as an Arab suicide bomber.

Other do-not-wear costumes include:  belly dancer,  burka wearer, black gangsta (with vampire!), burro-riding sombrero wearer and redneck with banjo, straw and cap.

“You wear the costume. I wear the stigma for life.” says the Asian nerd, who’s pictured with a bowl of rice, chopsticks and a pile of math books. This is a party costume?

Isn’t Fonzie a stereotype of an Italian greaser? And the Super Mario Brothers are stereotypes of Italian plumbers. Not all Italians are cool. Or plumbers. Yet they wear the stigma for life.

The campaign has inspired some parodies.


Racists have free speech rights too

Some University of Oklahoma students in the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity were videotaped singing a racist chant that included a reference to lynching. 

University president David Boren expelled two students for “leading a racist and exclusionary chant which has created a hostile educational environment for others.”

Racist speech is protected by the First Amendment, responds Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor, in the Washington Post. “Universities may not discipline students based on their speech.” There is no “hostile environment” exception.

Likewise, speech doesn’t lose its constitutional protection just because it refers to violence — “You can hang him from a tree,” “the capitalists will be the first ones up against the wall when the revolution comes,” “by any means necessary” with pictures of guns, “apostates from Islam should be killed.”

Speech would have to be a “true threat” of violence to lose that protection, writes Volokh. Examples would be saying “we’ll hang you from a tree” or “we will shoot you against a wall” to a particular person likely to see it as a death threat.

The university must “respect First Amendment principles” even in the face of “vile and reprehensible speech,” said the ACLU of Oklahoma. “It is difficult to imagine a situation in which a court would side with the university on this matter.”

At the University of Oregon, students argued free speech doesn’t apply to an anti-abortion preacher, writes Robby Soave on Reason‘s Hit & Run.

Allison Rutledge, a history major, told the Daily Emerald she felt emotionally threatened by the anti-abortion activist’s “obscene” sign. She grabbed it and stood on it. “You can’t just show whatever you want,” she said.

Warning: Ideas may be offensive

Universities should issue a one-time “trigger warning,” says Jonathan Rauch, author of Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought. At any moment, you may be exposed to ideas you find shocking, offensive, obnoxious, absurd, racist, sexist, homophobic or generally obnoxious. It’s called “education,” he says.

Not “microaggression.”

Let ‘Charlie’ speak on campus

A woman carries a Charlie Hebdo cover that says “love is stronger than hate” at a gathering in Rennes, France.

“The massacre at Charlie Hebdo should be an occasion to end speech codes on college campuses, writes David Brooks in the New York Times.

The journalists at Charlie Hebdo are now rightly being celebrated as martyrs on behalf of freedom of expression, but let’s face it: If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down.

. . .  The University of Illinois fired a professor who taught the Roman Catholic view on homosexuality. The University of Kansas suspended a professor for writing a harsh tweet against the N.R.A. Vanderbilt University derecognized a Christian group that insisted that it be led by Christians.

Americans may laud Charlie Hebdo for being brave enough to publish cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad, but, if Ayaan Hirsi Ali is invited to campus, there are often calls to deny her a podium.

We don’t have respect vulgar, offensive speech, Brooks writes. But we have to protect it.

BTW, the magazine once ran a sodomy cover featuring God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost that . . . Talk about offensive. But nobody used it as an excuse to try to murder the cartoonists.

Voltaire said it first: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” (Actually, Beatrice Evelyn Hall wrote the line to characterize Voltaire’s thinking in a 1906 biography, The Friends of Voltaire, according to a blogger.)

Everyone who wants to “be Charlie” should oppose the fad for casting annoyances as “microaggressions.” The word is a way to shut people up instead of engaging them in argument. There is no right to be free from offense — on campus or elsewhere.

‘Not afraid’

“France was swept up in a wave of defiant demonstrations in defense of freedom of expression on Wednesday night,” reports The Telegraph.

In Paris, more than 35,000 gathered in the Place de la Republique “to show their solidarity with the families of the victims, and their refusal to be cowed by terrorists.”

Demonstrations were held in 150 cities and towns.

I agree completely with this New Yorker commentary by George Packer on The Blame for the Charlie Hebdo Murders.  He blames “an ideology that has sought to achieve power through terror for decades.”

Because the ideology is the product of a major world religion, a lot of painstaking pretzel logic goes into trying to explain what the violence does, or doesn’t, have to do with Islam. Some well-meaning people tiptoe around the Islamic connection, claiming that the carnage has nothing to do with faith, or that Islam is a religion of peace, or that, at most, the violence represents a “distortion” of a great religion.

. . . A religion is not just a set of texts but the living beliefs and practices of its adherents. Islam today includes a substantial minority of believers who countenance, if they don’t actually carry out, a degree of violence in the application of their convictions that is currently unique.

He concludes:

The cartoonists died for an idea. The killers are soldiers in a war against freedom of thought and speech, against tolerance, pluralism, and the right to offend—against everything decent in a democratic society. So we must all try to be Charlie, not just today but every day.

Read the whole thing.

Free speech wins — belatedly

Mendocino High basketball players wore “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts to warm up for a tournament at Fort Bragg High School in northern California, writes Coach Brown. Players were told they’d be expelled from the tournament if they wore the shirts again.

Mendocino High girls warm up in "I Can't Breathe" T-shirts (Photo: Fort Bragg Advocate News)

Mendocino High girls warm up in “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts (Photo: Fort Bragg Advocate News)

“All the boys but one chose to ditch the shirts and play in the tournament,” writes Brown, who teaches and coaches at nearby Ukiah High. Half of girls said no, leaving the Mendocino girls team with only five players. They quit the tournament.

Fort Bragg is especially sensitive about the issue because a deputy sheriff, Ricky Del Fiorentino, was killed earlier in 2014 by a criminal, writes Coach Brown. The officer has been a mentor and coach at the high school.

Nonetheless, “high school students have the right to political speech at public school events,” such as school basketball games, writes Brown.

If he’d been the coach, he’d have made it a “teachable  moment.”

I would talk to the players about their choices, social and political, and make sure that they have a good comprehension about not only what might happen but about the event that they are protesting. I would talk to them about why Fort Bragg is sensitive about the subject and why the choice that they make might have unintended consequences. Then I would let them make a choice. Now, if they warm up in the “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts then they break our uniform policy and don’t play that game. On my team if you forget a part of your jersey, you don’t play. . . .If they all choose those consequences, we forfeit. That simple. Political protest has consequences.

In a belated recognition of free-speech rights, Fort Bragg announced the tournament will not prohibit players from “wearing an expressive T-shirt during warm-ups” or regulate spectators’ T-shirt messages, reports the Fort Bragg Advocate News. “However, student athletes must wear their designated uniforms during the game.”

The students and their community supporters should “be proud of the young adults not only trying to raise awareness of current events but also for demanding their Constitutional being upheld,” writes Coach Brown.

Awareness isn’t high in the north country. When Mendocino High’s girls’ team first wore the “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts before the Fort Bragg tournament, their coach, Caedyn Feehan “didn’t even know what it meant.” She “thought it was a joke about how I had conditioned them so hard,” Feehan told the Advocate News. “None of the administrators knew what it was.”

Feds push colleges to limit free speech

Spotlight-2015-graphMost American colleges and universities maintain unconstitutional speech codes, concludes a report by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

More than 55 percent maintain severely restrictive, “red light” speech codes, according to the report. Another 39 percent have “yellow light” restrictions.

“The greatest threat to free speech on campus may now be the federal government,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. Federal efforts to end “sexual harassment on campus are leading a number of universities to adopt flatly unconstitutional speech policies.”

UI president apologizes for public art

A public art piece created by University of Iowa faculty member Serhat Tanyolacar stood on the UI Pentacrest for less than four hours before it was removed. (Mitchell Schmidt/The Gazette)

Today’s college students are delicate souls. When University of Iowa students saw a Klan-costumed sculpture in the “Pentacrest,” they didn’t look at the newspaper stories about race riots and killings printed on it. They didn’t consider whether it might be anti-Klan. They were too distressed.

It was removed within hours. Not “soon enough,” said President Sally Mason in an apology for letting a professor display his art.

“For failing to meet our goal of providing a respectful, all-inclusive, educational environment, the university apologizes,” she wrote.

Mason, who was out of town Friday, said in her message that she plans to meet with concerned students Wednesday to “prepare a detailed plan of action” that will include input from those affected by the incident. The plan will look at how the university can “better meet its responsibility to ensure that all students, faculty, staff, and visitors are respected and safe.”

Mason also shared plans to move quickly in forming a committee of students and community members to advise her on options for strengthening cultural competency training and reviewing implicit bias training.

The university will provide counseling for the traumatized.

Serhat Tanyolacar, 38, a UI faculty member raised in Turkey, apologized “for the pain and suffering I caused to the African American community” and begged for forgiveness. He’d hoped to “facilitate a dialogue” on the history of racism. Instead, he used his eight-year-old “mixed-race” son to defend himself from charges of racism. (Does he get free counseling?)

Artist Serhat Tanyolacar

Artist Serhat Tanyolacar

Removing the artwork likely was “viewpoint-based discrimination,” said David Ryfe, the director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, in the Daily Iowan.  Still, Ryfe said, “If it was up to me, and me alone, I would follow the lead of every European nation and ban this type of speech.”

On his blog, Ryfe says he doesn’t want to ban “artistic expression.” He supports a ban on “hate speech” — “defined as speech uttered with the intention of demeaning and/or intimidating a category of persons (based on race, sexuality, gender, and so on), especially categories of people that have been historically marginalized/threatened.”

The journalism professor hasn’t worked as a journalist, ever.

Sensitivities also are delicate at Smith, where President Kathleen McCartney apologized for a pro-protest email that said: “We are united in our insistence that all lives matter.” It went on to say the grand jury decisions in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have “led to a shared fury … We gather in vigil, we raise our voices in protest.” Not good enough.

“Too many of today’s students want freedom from speech rather than freedom of speech,” Greg Lukianoff, President of Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), told Fox News. “It’s hard to challenge minds while walking on eggshells,” he said.

‘Thrones’ prof wins free-speech case

An art professor who posted a photo of his daughter in a Game of Thrones T-shirt no longer has to fear being fired for “disparaging” remarks or “unbecoming” conduct.

The photo went to Francis Schmidt’s Google + contacts, including a dean at Bergen Community College in New Jersey. Not a fan of the hit TV series, she thought the quote on the shirt — “I will take what is mine with fire & blood” — was a threat to the campus rather than to the fictional continent of Westeros.