Jake Witzenfeld, president of Cambridge University’s Israel Society cancelled a talk by Benny Morris, a distinguished Israeli historian, for fear the Israel Society would be portrayed as a mouthpiece for Islamophobia.
The trial of Geert Wilders, in Holland, has received almost no attention from the media panjandrums in the West for fear the issue might lead to Muslim incitement, particularly in cities like Rotterdam where the Islamic population is near a majority.
Yale University Press refused to publish cartoons about the Prophet Mohammed in a book about the cartoons and the aftermath of the original publication, for fear of a possible violent response from Islamic adherents.
Yes, these craven responses all appear with the word “fear” since that word has trampled the meaning of freedom in nations that have fought for its defense over centuries. In one moment, intimidation has trumped free speech and cowardice has subordinated any display of courage.
I find it astonishing that a heralded center of learning, a major university press and a nation that once fought against totalitarian impulses could so easily justify their actions. Whatever happened to a belief in freedom of speech and a faith in the power of debate to reveal the truth that counters censorship?
It is instructive that the fear someone might claim you are racist or Islamophic – even if you know you aren’t and if you know the speaker isn’t – may justify a refusal to hear someone’s point of view. Following this precedent, any serious discussion of Middle East politics, or Muslim inspired terrorism of religion itself should be banned since there are invariably those who will portray opinions they don’t like as hateful and, yes, racist.
What these three illustrations demonstrate is that slander can be converted into an effective weapon to stifle expression. When Muslims are concerned about opinions that don’t fit with their worldview, they can raise the specter of retaliation and attack a speaker with epithets, such as Islamophia, and mirabile dictu speech is silenced.