Last week, at universities around America, the conservative activist David Horowitz organized "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week." The week featured a guest speaker, the showing of the documentary, "Obsession," about radical Islam, and related activities.
As one of those speakers -- at the University of California at Santa Barbara -- I was particularly interested in the controversy Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week engendered as well as in the larger question of whether the term "Islamo-Fascism" is valid.
Various Muslim student groups condemned these awareness weeks and the term itself, charging that both are no more than expressions of anti-Muslim bigotry, i.e., "Islamophobia." Nevertheless, Muslim student groups decided not to actively disrupt the week. Therefore most of the opposition to Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week events came from leftist student groups.
This opposition took the form of opposing funding of speakers invited to campus; writing articles in campus newspapers attacking the speakers, the Awareness Week and the term "Islamo-Fascism" as essentially racist; and in some cases disrupting the speech.
I experienced the first two forms of leftist opposition; David Horowitz experienced the third as well. He was invited to speak at Emory University, but leftist students packed the hall and shouted him down. Emory officials did nothing to stop the harassment and the suppression of speech, and Horowitz was unable to deliver his talk. It is considerably more difficult to get conservative speakers invited to most American universities -- or for them to be able to speak without being harassed -- than it is for a Holocaust-denying, genocide-advocating leader, such as Iran's Ahmadinejad at Columbia University, to deliver a speech at an American university.
In my case, about a quarter of the 300 students who came to my talk at UCSB were leftists opposed to my coming. But they allowed me to deliver my remarks without once trying to shout me down. There were, I believe, three reasons for this. One is that UCSB has a relatively calm political climate. Second, there was a serious police presence and it was clear that disrupters would be removed, if not arrested. Third, students told me afterward that I disarmed those who came to oppose me. Contrary to the demonized figure they had assumed I am -- in one UCSB student newspaper column, I was compared to a Ku Klux Klanner for speaking on Islamo-Fascism -- they saw a decent man, a sometimes funny guy, and heard a low-keyed, intellectual speech that contained not one word of gratuitous hatred.
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