University of censorship's fall semester

Posted: Oct 12, 2001 12:00 AM
George Orwell would have loved UC-Berkeley Student Senate Bill 67. Its first and second versions begin praising Berkeley as "a place of light where the rights of individuals with difference are appreciated and honest, probing inquiry is encouraged." Also: "Berkeley remains one of the few places in the world where a thoughtful, critical exchange can occur from people across a spectrum of backgrounds and races, without fear of reprisal or hatred." But, in an exercise of left-wing censorship, a version of the bill introduced last week recommended that a student board raise the $8,000-per-month rent of the Daily Californian in retaliation of the student newspaper refusing to be intimidated into running a front-page apology for a Darrin Bell political cartoon it ran Sept. 18. The cartoon showed two turbaned terrorists ready to "meet Allah and be fed grapes," but finding themselves instead burning in hell. Bill co-author Sajid Khan believes the cartoon was "racist." (I disagree. The cartoon clearly lampoons a vicious fanatical mindset that equates slaughtering innocents with martyrdom and eternal reward.) The newspaper could avoid a rent increase, the bill explained, if it adopted "voluntary diversity training." (Doublespeak lives in the misuse of the words "voluntary" -- when the bill says submit or pay -- and "diversity" -- when only popular opinions will be tolerated.) Also, the paper could "rectify its complete insensitivity to the needs of its campus and its values" with "a printed apology, and a new record of dedication to truth in editorial and news content." The student censors speak out of both sides of their mouths, then demand truth. After big-name cartoonists scolded the students, a committee amended the bill by removing the extortionate threat. Said co-author Tony Falcone, "You know, looking at the original bill, it did reek of fascism." And, "I think we screwed up big-time." They screwed up big-time again. The allegedly coercion-free bill, 67A, asks the Daily Cal to subject all staff members to "mandatory" -- yes, mandatory -- "sensitivity training." "We are open to removing that word," Khan explained yesterday. Perhaps they did during a Senate vote Wednesday night after my deadline. Or maybe they didn't. While the ideologically straitjacketed see but one way to address the terrorist attacks, the Daily Cal understood true public debate: After the Daily Cal ran the Bell cartoon, it printed a number of complaints from students who objected to the cartoon. Thus, both sides of the issue were widely aired. Why wasn't an airing of both sides good enough? Answered Khan: "They didn't seem to have concern for the safety of the students, their readers." He explained, "The cartoon, we felt, perpetuated the kind of ignorance that would lead to harassment." Does it not occur to you, I asked, that maybe the Sept. 11 attacks spawn stupid hate crimes, and not a cartoon? Khan didn't want to go there, other than to say cartoons can have a cumulative effect. Falcone answered, "I don't think that the cartoon would set people off, but it contributes to the wrong environment." So even one author doesn't believe his own rhetoric. Student senator and bill opponent Daniel Frankenstein has a clearer take on the issue: "The people who preach tolerance become the most intolerant when you disagree with them." Daily Cal Editor Janny Hu, to her credit, won't back down: "We maintain that the editorial cartoon fell within the realm of fair comment and the First Amendment." In the spring, her predecessor Daniel Hernandez caved in to heavy-handed demands for a formal apology over an ad the paper ran on slavery reparations. Hu believes Hernandez's cave-in may have stoked this month's heavy-handedness. So students can see another example of how appeasement invites more aggression. Meanwhile, if Falcone or Kahn want to sue UC-Berkeley for failing to provide them with a sound education, I'll write an affidavit. They clearly have not learned how a free society works.