Danish cartoon display at NYU campus

I received a “call to action” e-mail in my NYU mailbox to protest an intellectual discussion sponsored by the Objectivist Club at NYU on the Danish cartoons and the free speech issues surrounding it. I couldn’t believe people would go so off the Politically Correct deep-end as to want to protest that. So I wrote the head of the Islamic society an e-mail.

Dear Maheen,

I don’t really like the Objectivist Club, as (in my opinion, and they may consider _this_ hate speech) it is a bunch of Ayn Rand sycophants who think that the whole world would be better if governments just gave in to business interests in the name of “Free Markets” and economic neoliberalism. So don’t think I’m defending this meeting from their point of view.

And I agree with you that the Danish cartoons are racist, and in bad taste.

But guess what, no one is posting these cartoons on your front door. It is clear to me the Objectivist club is displaying them in order to discuss them and to discuss the free speech issues surrounding them, not in order to engage in racism. Your protest of this display is a form of censorship. In fact, here is a description of the event from their website:

“Why the eruption of violence and the issuance of death threats make completely irrelevant the question of whether the cartoons are in bad taste. Why the idea that freedom of the press must be ‘coupled with press responsibility’ means that free speech is not a right, but a fleeting permission. Why every Western newspaper and media outlet should have immediately re-published or shown the cartoons in solidarity with the cartoonists. Why the cowardly and appeasing response of many Western governments–including our own–will only invite further aggression. Other panelists will present their own views.”

If I held a philosopher club meeting about Mein Kampf, I would hope that people could understand that one could read that book without being a Nazi, or supporting Hitler’s racism, etc. The same rule applies here. This was a form of speech made by some cartoonist. It’s speech you don’t like — and if the cartoonist published it in your face, you would call it hate speech, and that’s fine, and you could be angry with him. But if a group of students and professors want to discuss the cartoons in a private room in Kimmel Center, not in a meeting forced upon the public, but in a meeting OPEN to the public, then that is fine.

Your protesting this display is also your right, but when it comes to justifications, you are ultimately protesting what? An intellectual analysis of images you abhor. You are not protesting racism, no matter how much you convince yourself that you are.

Free speech is _not_ absolute. I agree with that. The Supreme Court has shown that time and time again there is an interest in regulating some forms of speech (i.e. do a Google search on “Supreme Court” and “fighing words”). But in this case, free speech does trump your own hatred of these images, for sure. No public interest is served by not allowing this meeting to take place. In fact, censoring it is so irrational (as it _is_ a contribution to the marketplace of ideas envisioned by the US Constitution), that _it_, the protest, should be abhored.

I suggest you seriously consider not protesting this meeting, and withdrawing your “call to action”. It could ultimately damage your credibility, and be seen as a purely “politically correct” move, so common in colleges these days.

Sincerely,
A left-wing armchair activist,
Andrew Montalenti

2 Responses to “Danish cartoon display at NYU campus”

  1. roman Says:

    did maheen ever give you a reply?

    i know that their protest went ahead anyway, and i heard she started tearing when she addressed the faithful assembled in front of her.

    i also heard, admittedly from one of the islamic center kids, that the way the objectivist club went about discussing their cartoons was pretty racist…

    but i’d be interested to know how she replied.

  2. pixelmonkey Says:

    I was going to do a follow-up post on the Danish cartoon situation, but didn’t get to it yet. To answer your question, no, Maheen never replied to that e-mail. If she does, I’d be glad to post it on my site.

    I saw the reporting on the protest, but as you probably know, the Objectivist club was also asked to not display the cartoons by the administration. They displayed blank panels instead, and so from what I heard a lot of the discussion of free speech issues got drowned out by the anger over the administration’s blanket censorship. Unfortunately, the administration has every right to censor an event held on its campus, it being a private university, so there isn’t much to say there.

    If they did discuss the cartoons in a racist way, then shame on them. From WSN, I heard that the basic gist was that a couple of the Ayn Randian intellectuals claimed that all religions are basically bogus, and that they ascribe to the only true religion, which they called “rationality”, or somesuch. Of course, this is utter tripe that you can feed to the dogs — “Objectivism” hardly even attempts to answer the existential questions that religions address, so that any form of atheism arising from it is hardly stronger than any fundamentally faith-based belief system.

    My main issue in that e-mail and over this situation in general is a principle. The basic principle is that you can’t just claim that you have a right to see something censored because it offends your religion. I think that the freedom of information flow — no matter what kind of information that is — definitely trumps maintaining tolerance for religious sensibilities. If someone publishes things that can be taken as offensive by Christians, Muslims, Buddhists or Hindus, I don’t want the precedent set that we, as a society, will simply remove that text from our literature. It’s true that here, with the cartoons, we have something that is very clearly anti-Islam and racist, but where do we stop in the protection we grant to speech we don’t like? What if the next time, it is a cartoon portraying Jesus as blinding his followers, or an evolutionary analysis of religion? We have to protect the speech we don’t like, so that the canon of “acceptable things to publish” doesn’t shrink everyday.

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