The Death of Facts

Every week in America brings another spate of defeats for freedom of speech. This past week it was Ann Coulter’s turn (yet again) to be banned from speaking at Berkeley for what the university authorities purport to be “health and safety” reasons — meaning the health and safety of the speaker.

Each time this happens, there are similar responses. Those who broadly agree with the views of the speaker complain about the loss of one of the fundamental rights which the Founding Fathers bestowed on the American people. Those who may be on the same political side but find the speaker somewhat distasteful find a way to be slightly muted or silent. Those who disagree with the speaker’s views applaud the banning as an appropriate response to apparently imminent incitement.

The problem throughout all of this is that the reasons why people should be supporting freedom of speech (to correct themselves where they are in error, and strengthen their arguments where they are not) are actually becoming lost in America. No greater demonstration of this muddle exists than a letter put together by a group of students at Claremont McKenna College earlier this month to protest the appearance on their campus of a speaker with whom they disagreed.

Heather Mac Donald is a conservative author, journalist and fellow of the Manhattan Institute in New York. Her work has appeared in some of the world’s most prestigious journals. Of course, none of that was enough to deter students at Claremont from libelling her as much as possible in advance of her speech and then preventing her speech from taking place. At Claremont McKenna College, where Mac Donald was due to speak about her recent book, The War on Cops, angry students surrounded the building, screamed obscene words and banged on the windows. Mac Donald ended up giving the speech to a mainly empty room via live video-streaming and then fleeing the university under the protection of campus security. As recent events, such as the hospitalisation of a professor at Charles Murray’s recent speech at Middlebury College have shown, intimidation and violence are clearly regarded by today’s North American students as legitimate means to stop people from speaking.

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Palestinians: This is How We Intimidate Journalists

Seven Palestinian journalists are the latest victims of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) continued crackdown on the media.

The repressive measures are aimed at silencing critical voices among the journalists and deterring others from reporting stories that reflect negatively on the Palestinian leadership in particular and Palestinians in general.

In the view of President Mahmoud Abbas and his PA, Palestinian journalists exist to write stories slamming Israel or praising PA leaders. Media, for them, is defined as a mouthpiece for Abbas, the PA leadership and the Palestinian cause.

Any journalist who dares to think outside this checkpoint is subject to severe punishment. Under Abbas and the PA, there is no room for an independent media.

The three major Palestinian newspapers — Al-Quds, Al-Ayyam and Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda — are controlled, directly and indirectly, by the PA.

Although Al-Quds, the largest Palestinian daily, is privately owned and published in Jerusalem, it too serves as a mouthpiece for the PA. The newspaper’s publisher and editors know that if they publish any story that is critical of Abbas or the PA leaders, they will face punitive measures, such as banning the distribution of Al-Quds in PA-controlled territories. As such, the editors and journalists have long resorted to self-censorship. This forced silencing explains the absence, for example, of any news items about Palestinian corruption or human rights violations in Al-Quds and the two other newspapers.

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Europe: Making Itself into the New Afghanistan?

Maastricht, in the Netherlands, is the picturesque city that gave its name to the famous treaty signed in 1992 by the twelve nations of the European Community at the time, and which paved the way for the foundation of today’s European Union and the single currency, the euro.

Maastricht, however, is also the home of “Tefaf”, the most important art and antiques fair in the world. The art work “Persepolis” by the Italian artist Luca Pignatelli was already scheduled when the commission ordered it removed. The work, built in 2016, combined a Persian Islamic rug and a female head. “We are all humbled and speechless”, Pignatelli declared, pointing out that his work had initially aroused the enthusiasm of the commission. The fair’s explanation was that Pignatelli’s work was “provocative“.

The officials of fair presumably did not want to offend Islam and possible Muslim buyers with Pignatelli’s combination of the mat (used by Muslims for prayer) with the woman’s face. “We are shocked, this is the first time this has happened and I think it is legitimate to talk about it”, Pignatelli said. “If in Rome it can happen that you decide to veil art works to avoid offending foreign visitors, well, I do not agree”. The reference is at the Italian government decision to veil the antique Roman statues to avoid offending Iran’s visiting President Hassan Rouhani.

If Europe wants a future, it should be less ideological about Maastricht’s treaty and more against Maastricht’s capitulation to fear. The brave Algerian writer Kamel Daoud said:

“Those (migrants) who come to seek freedom in France must participate in freedom. Migrants did not come to seek asylum in Saudi Arabia, but in Germany. Why? For security, freedom and prosperity. So they must not come to create a new Afghanistan”.

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Turks Vote to Give Away Their Democracy

In a bitter irony, nearly 55 million Turks went to the ballot box on April 16 to exercise their basic democratic right to vote. But they voted in favor of giving away their democracy. The system for which they voted looks more like a Middle Eastern sultanate than democracy in the West.

According to unofficial results of the referendum, 51.4% of the Turks voted in favor of constitutional amendments that will give their authoritarian Islamist president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, excessive powers to augment his one-man rule in comfort.

The changes make Erdogan head of government, head of state and head of the ruling party — all at the same time. He now has the power to appoint cabinet ministers without requiring a confidence vote from parliament, propose budgets and appoint more than half the members of the nation’s highest judicial body. In addition, he has the power to dissolve parliament, impose states of emergency and issue decrees. Alarmingly, the proposed system lacks the safety mechanisms of checks and balances that exist in other countries such as the United States. It would transfer powers traditionally held by parliament to the presidency, thereby rendering the parliament merely a ceremonial, advisory body.

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Why Does the West Keep Colluding with Terrorists?

Only a fortnight after a vehicular terrorist attack in Westminster, London, another similar attack took place in Stockholm, Sweden. On one of the city’s main shopping streets, a vehicle was once again used as a battering-ram against the bodies of members of the public. As in Nice, France. As in Berlin. As so many times in Israel.

Amid this regular news there is an air of defeatism — a terrible lack of policy and lack of solutions. How can governments stop people driving trucks into pedestrians? Is it something we must simply get used to, as France’s former Prime Minister Manuel Valls and London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan have both suggested? Must we come to recognise acts of terror as something like the weather? Or is there anything we can do to limit, if not stop, them? If so, where would we start? One place would be to have a frank public discussion about these matters. Yet, even that is easier said than done.

There is a terrible symmetry to this past week in the West. The week began with the news that the Somali-born author and human-rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali had been forced to cancel a speaking tour in Australia. “Security concerns” were among the given reasons. A notable aspect of this issue, which has been made public, is that one of the venues at which Hirsi Ali was due to speak was contacted last month by something calling itself “‘The Council for the Prevention of Islamophobia Incorporated”. Nobody appears to know where this “incorporated” organisation comes from, but its purported founder — Syed Murtaza Hussain — claimed that the group would bring 5000 protestors to the hall at which Hirsi Ali was scheduled to talk. This threat is reminiscent of the occasion in 2009 when the British peer, Lord Ahmed, threatened to mobilise 10,000 British Muslims to protest at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster if the Dutch politician Geert Wilders were allowed to speak. On that occasion — as on this one — the event was cancelled. Promises to mobilise thousands of angry Muslims can have such an effect. But the long-term implications often get lost in the short-term outrage.

Other attacks on Hirsi Ali began, in fact, weeks before her now-cancelled tour had been due to start. On the web, for instance, a widely-watched video was disseminated showing a group of headscarf-covered Australian Muslim women. All were attacking Hirsi Ali and protesting her appearance in the country. Addressing her directly, they complained that, “Your narrative doesn’t support our struggles. It erases them.”

Like other criticisms of Hirsi Ali, the effort was to portray her as the problem itself rather than the response to a problem. Once again, mixing up (deliberately or otherwise) the arsonist and the firefighter, such groups present a homogenous, agreed-upon opinion — or “narrative” — as the only necessary answer to any problems that may or may not exist. Hirsi Ali, according to them, thinks the “wrong” things and says the wrong things. Therefore she must be stopped.

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The Cowards of Academia

Now that student mobs at universities around America (and elsewhere in the West) have silenced conservative speaker after conservative speaker, it has dawned on a small number of left-wing professors that the public is beginning to have contempt for the universities. As a result, a handful of academics at a handful of universities have signed statements on behalf of allowing “diverse” views to be heard at the university.

These statements are worthless.

While some of the professors who have signed them may sincerely believe that the university should honor the value of non-left free speech, one should keep in mind the following caveats.

First, the number of professors, deans and administrators who have signed these statements is very small.

Second, while no one can know what animates anyone else, it’s a little hard to believe that many of those who did sign are sincere. If they are, why haven’t we heard from them for decades? Shutting out conservatives and conservative ideas is not new. Plus, it’s easy to sign a letter. You look righteous (“Of course, I support free speech.”) and pay no price.

Third, these statements accomplish nothing of practical value. They are basically feel-good gestures.

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