In the culture-wars currently rocking US campuses, the enemies of free speech have plenty of tools on their side. Many of these would appear to be advantages. For instance the employment of violence, thuggery and intimidation against those who disagree are generally effective ways to prevent people hearing things you do not want them to hear. As are the subtler but more regularly employed tactics for shutting people down, such a “no-platforming” people or getting them disinvited after they have been invited, should the speaker’s views not accord 100% with those of their would-be censors. As also noted in this space before, many of the people who campaign to limit what American students can learn also have the short-term advantage of being willing to lie without compunction and cover over facts whenever they emerge.
The important point here, however, is that word “short-term”. In the long run, those who wish to cover over a contrary opinion, or even inconvenient facts, are unlikely to succeed. Adults tend to be capable of more discernment and initiative than the aspirant-nannies believe them to be, and the effects will always tend to show. Take, for example, events in Portland, Oregon, last month.
In April, a gathering took place at the Portland State University. The occasion was billed as an interfaith panel and was given the title, “Challenging Misperceptions.” As this is an era when perceptions, as well as misperceptions, of religion are perhaps unusually common, there might be some sense in holding such a discussion, even in the knowledge that it is likely to be hampered — as interfaith get-togethers usually are — by the necessity of dwelling on things that do not matter and focussing attention away from all things that do. Thus, by the end of an average interfaith event, it can generally be agreed upon that there are certain dietary laws that certain religions have in common, some agreement on the existence of historical figures and an insistence that religion is the answer to most problems of our world. Fortunately, at Portland, there were some people in the audience who appear to have been happy to avoid this sort of boilerplate.
A young woman raised her hand and asked the Muslim student on the panel about a specific verse in the Koran which would appear to approve killing non-Muslims (Possible verses might have included Qur’an: 8:12; 22:19-22; 2:191-193; 9.5; 9:29). The Muslim student replied:
“I can confidently tell you, when the Koran says an innocent life, it means an innocent life, regardless of the faith, the race, like, whatever you can think about as a characteristic.”
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