While scanning through the book of face this morning, I came across a New York Times Op-Ed column by David Brooks titled “I am Not Charlie Hebdo” I thought I’d link to/share here. It’s kind of a weird piece and I’m not sure what to make of it.
Let me quote from the first couple paragraphs, which are the most confusing part for me:
The journalists at Charlie Hebdo are now rightly being celebrated as martyrs on behalf of freedom of expression, but let’s face it: If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down.
Public reaction to the attack in Paris has revealed that there are a lot of people who are quick to lionize those who offend the views of Islamist terrorists in France but who are a lot less tolerant toward those who offend their own views at home.
Just look at all the people who have overreacted to campus micro-aggressions. The University of Illinois fired a professor who taught the Roman Catholic view on homosexuality. The University of Kansas suspended a professor for writing a harsh tweet against the N.R.A. Vanderbilt University derecognized a Christian group that insisted that it be led by Christians.
Americans may laud Charlie Hebdo for being brave enough to publish cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad, but, if Ayaan Hirsi Ali is invited to campus, there are often calls to deny her a podium.
First off, let’s be clear that there is an enormous difference between all of the examples that Brooks cites here and killing people in their offices. The idea that he is making a comparison at all strikes me as both downplaying the terrorism and exaggerating the on-campus examples. The fact is censoring a student newspaper (which I would agree is wrong) is simply not at all “like” killing people.
Second, context matters a great deal here. There’s a difference between all of the things that Brooks mentions happening on a college campus versus not. So yeah, the University of Illinois might have “fired a professor who taught the Roman Catholic view on homosexuality” (though I am quite certain that there’s more to the story about whatever he’s referencing here), but it’s not as if that speech is shut down entirely– probably not at the Catholic student center at UI, for example.
This all seems to circle around the bad logic of “Political Correctness,” which, as far as I can tell, is always in the eye of the beholder. One person’s “ideologue who must be silenced” is another person’s “voice of freedom and reason.” I don’t disagree that college campus discussions often get skewed by different views, and sometimes the effort to protect people/censor people in the name of decorum or fairness or whatever goes too far. But using this particular French situation as an example of how speech codes in the U.S. have run amok go too far.