A public event with the eminent scientist and rationalist Richard Dawkins was cancelled late last year by a Berkeley radio station. A spokesman for the station said that Dawkins had “said things that I know have hurt people,” a misleading allusion to the atheist Dawkins’s forthright criticism of Islam which, along with all religions, he regards as irrational. The station’s general manager declared: “We believe that it is our free speech right not to participate with anyone who uses hateful or hurtful language against a community that is already under attack.”
This is only one of the more recent in a string of dis-invitations of public figures on North American college campuses. Following the violence at Charlottesville in August last year, free speech has become a thornier subject. But no matter how evil, all speech is protected by the Constitution, even that of Antifa and white nationalists. The cliché that sunlight is the best disinfectant holds true. By allowing these groups to express themselves out in the open, we can clearly see what they are saying, and, if we disagree, counter it.
I am among those who have been “de-platformed” for speaking critically about the political and ideological aspects of Islam that are not compatible with American values and human rights. The usual justification for disinviting us is that speaking critically of Islam is “hate speech” that is “hurtful” to Muslims.
However, this use of the words “hate” and “hurt” to silence debate is contrary to the Western tradition of critical thinking. It is not hyperbolic to say that this is the pathway to censorship and the closing of the Western mind.