“In a seemingly mundane decision, New York University has sacrificed the principle underlying its flourishing and the survival of civilization–free speech,” said Dr. Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute. NYU is refusing to protect a student group’s right to display the Danish cartoons of Mohammad at a panel discussion on free speech on March 29.
The group’s event was to be open to the public, but at the last minute NYU retreated. Under the pretense of maintaining campus security, the administration contradicted its own stated policy on free speech by requiring that, if the cartoons are displayed, the event be limited only to “members of the NYU community.” The student group now must turn away more than 150 members of the public who had planned to attend the panel.
“The university’s shameful appeasement of Muslim and anti- free-speech groups–which have vowed to protest the event–underscores the urgent need to display the cartoons in defense of freedom of speech,” said Dr. Brook.
“Free speech protects the rational mind: it is the freedom to think, to reach conclusions and express one’s views without fear of coercion of any kind. And it must include the right to express unpopular and offensive views, including outright criticism of religion. NYU–which like other universities grants tenure to protect intellectual freedom–ought to recognize the crucial importance of this principle and defend it.
“If intimidation and threats are allowed to compel writers, cartoonists, thinkers and institutions of learning into self- censorship, the right to free speech is lost. If Muslims are allowed to pressure critics of Islam into silence, critics of religion will be next. And then everyone else.”
FIRE has also issued a condemnatory press release about the last-minute change in policy. It included this line:
“This is a classic case of the heckler’s veto,” noted FIRE’s Lukianoff. “NYU is shamelessly clamping down on an event purely out of fear that people who disagree with the viewpoints expressed may disrupt it. These immoral, last-minute restrictions must be lifted.”
Betsy Speicher sent me the link to the ARI press release, as well as this announcement from the apparent Heckler-in-Chief, namely Maheen Farooqi, President of the Islamic Center at NYU.
From: Maheen H Farooqi
Date: Mon, 27 Mar 2006 22:43:35-0800
To: [email protected]
Subject: Action Alert – Racist Cartoons at NYU
Dear Community Leader,
This Wednesday, March 29th, an event is being sponsored by the Objectivist Club, an OSA club, and its purpose is to analyze the issue of free speech with an emphasis on a series of cartoons recently published in a Danish newspaper that depicted the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and Islam in a highly offensive manner. These cartoons have lead to riots, protests, beatings, and even deaths on an international level and now they are being displayed at NYU at the aforementioned event. We at the Islamic Center are all for discourse and dialogue and we would encourage the Objectivist Club to partake in whatever discussion they would like.
We, however, would not encourage racism is any shape or form, and to us and many others, these cartoons are racist and we adamantly oppose their display. As such, we are asking you and your club to help us speak out against and protest the display of these cartoons in any shape or form. The event itself and the topic that the students would like to discuss is not problematic in any way, but the pictures themselves are just hatred and there is no justification in preaching something that breeds that kind of hate. We will be organizing a protest for this Wednesday at around 5:30pm and will be having an organizational meeting for it tomorrow on the 7th floor of Kimmel at 7pm. If you are interested in helping us with this, please contact me at [email protected] as soon as possible. Even if you cannot attend the meeting and would be interested in helping, please send me an email to let me know.
If you can ask your membership to make the following announcement in their classes it would be greatly appreciated:
Tomorrow the Objectivist Club is sponsoring an event that will display a series of cartoons recently published in a Danish newspaper. These cartoons depict the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and Islam in a highly offensive manner. These same cartoons unfortunately have lead to riots, protests, beatings, and deaths all around the world. We are asking all students to stand in solidarity with us as we seek to protest hatred and discrimination on OUR CAMPUS. On Wednesday we will be meeting at Kimmel at 5:30 PM in protest of the University’s decision to allow the cartoons to be displayed. Remember that this same type of manifestation of hatred has lead to the murder of many innocent people. We can look as far back as the 1930′s in the years prior to the Holocaust when Nazi Germany circulated hate-filled images of our Jewish brothers and sisters throughout society. Contemporary situations such as Rwanda have also caused bloody genocides. It is necessary for all of us to stand together and speak out against this, as hatred does not discriminate against any color, race, creed, or religion; all it does is hate.
“First they came for the Communists but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out; Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists but I was not one of them, so I did not speak out; Then they came for the Jews but I was not Jewish so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”
Martin Niemoller, 1892-1984
Thank you for your cooperation,
Maheen H Farooqi
Islamic Center at NYU
The equation of criticism of Islam with racism is a standard sophistry from those who wish to insulate their religious beliefs from criticism. Racism is evil because a person’s race is neither chosen, nor of any moral significance. In contrast, people do choose their religious beliefs: even a child raised in a religion can choose to reject it, once he reaches adulthood. And religions are of moral significance: as fundamental beliefs, they strongly influence the whole course of a person’s life, including the actions regarded as moral or immoral.
Moreover, the invocation of the Holocaust in this context is beyond disgusting. The cartoons critical of Islam were drawn in part due to the widespread Muslim hatred of and violence toward Jews. (Even worse, many Muslims explicitly call upon their brothers to finish the job that Hitler started!) Moreover, to suggest that criticism of Islam might lead to slaughter of Muslims is nothing more than an intimidation tactic. Critics of Islam do not deny that Muslims are fully human, with all the same rights to peacefully practice their religion as everyone else. They are saying that Islam is a barbaric religion destructive to human life. And they are right to say that: just consider 9/11, the brutal murder of Theo van Gogh, the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the waves of Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel, and the Abdul Rahman’s narrow escape from beheading for blasphemy in Afghanistan.
At this late moment, I wonder what — if anything — can be done. (I’ve sent news tips to Denver’s local papers and tv news. You might take a few moments to do the same.)
Update 1: You can also send a polite but firm e-mail to John Sexton (the President of NYU) at [email protected] and Bob Butler (Director of Student Activities) at [email protected]. (Here’s a link for both addresses at once.) Here’s my letter:
Dear Mr. Sexton and Mr. Butler,
I learned this morning that NYU has decided, at the very last minute, to bar the public from tonight’s Panel Discussion on the Danish Cartoons if the cartoons themselves are shown. I am gravely disturbed by this decision.
Free speech includes the freedom to offend the sensibilities of the faithful. In face of unjustified intimidation from Muslims, NYU ought to have stood up for free speech by protecting the panel from any disturbance, not by attempting to diminish its impact (by forbidding the display of the cartoons) or its reach (by forbidding the entry of the general public).
Consider the consequences of your decision. By capitulating this time, you’ve forsaken the principle necessary to withstand pressure from other groups to withdraw some speaker deemed offensive. What ground can you stand upon when the Campus Republicans attempt to bar Michael Moore from speaking? Or when the Christian groups band together to bar an atheist? If those groups threaten trouble, will you demand concessions from those speakers too, like that Michael Moore can’t say anything mean about President Bush or that the atheist must refrain from arguing his full case against God? Soon, no speech would be permitted, lest even innocuous comments about the sunny weather offend the depressed or mentions of a good grade on an exam offend those who chose not to study. Once speech is limited on the grounds that it might offend some people, the principle of free speech is destroyed.
I urge you to reverse this last-minute change in policy.
Diana Mertz Hsieh
Department of Philosophy
University of Colorado at Boulder
Please feel free to post your letters in the comments!
Update 2: ARI just sent the following letter to its NY-area donors:
As you know, the Objectivist club at NYU is planning to hold an event in support of free speech on March 29. At the event they plan to display the Danish cartoons while engaging in a panel discussion on free speech. This event was planned as a public event–some of you might have RSVP’d for it.
Unfortunately, this morning we found out that the University, under the pretense of security, is limiting the event to “members of the NYU community” only. This is in contradiction to their own policy regarding free speech. The only way they claim they would allow non-NYU attendees, is if the cartoons are not shown. The student group has refused this condition–they have refused to be silenced. Thus, we cannot guarantee that non-NYU attendees will be able to get into the event. We continue to try to challenge the NYU administration regarding this decision.
However, in spite of the uncertainty, we would like to encourage all those who RSVP’d and anyone else who would like to show their support for free speech to show up at NYU. We have learned that Muslim groups are planning to demonstrate outside Kimmel Center at 5.30PM. We cannot allow them to be the only ones showing their true colors! We urge you to go to the NYU campus to support your right to free speech–the same support you have shown through generous donations to ARI.
If intimidation and threats are allowed to compel writers, cartoonists, thinkers and institutions of learning into self-censorship, the right to free speech is lost. If Muslims are allowed to pressure critics of Islam into silence, critics of religion will be next. And then everyone else.
[FIRE panelist] Greg [Lukianoff] is leaving for New York shortly; he, the other panelists, and the student organizers are forging ahead. In the meantime, since NYU’s president failed to respond to a phone call from Greg yesterday, we’re calling on NYU publicly to repudiate mob rule and restore freedom of speech on its campus. And in case you don’t believe that things are really so bad up there, check out the e-mail that has come into FIRE’s possession:
I want to thank those of you who have sent e-mails. NYU has decided to let the event continue so the Islamic Center has decided to step things up. The event is tomorrow at 7 at E&L in Kimmel. Tickets are being distributed for free via Ticket Central. The Islamic Center would like everyone to get tickets to this event so we can kill their attendance figures.
Let’s remember, we have no problem with dialogue but the cartoons go against Muslims for two reasons. First, the depiction of the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) is strictly forbidden. Secondly, it makes a horrible generalization that all Muslims are terrorists.
Therefore I ask you to go to ticket central, get two tickets for this event, and rip them up.
Update 4: Betsy Speicher also alerted me the source of the trouble, namely a letter from Muslim activist Yvonne Ridley urging protests against this event by Muslims. I’d actually already seen it posted on this blog (via some now-forgotten source). Here it is:
The NYU intends to display the cartoons, please send emails asking for civility.
We have just recieved this letter from Stop Political Terror one of our supporting organisations, by our sister Yvonne Ridley.
Our brothers and sisters in New York desperately need our help and support.
On March 29th, this Wednesday, an event is being held by a student organization at New York University called the Objectivist Club. The event’s purpose is to analyze the issue of free speech with an emphasis put on the vile cartoons published in Denmark that depicted the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and Islam in a highly offensive manner.
The student group is also planning on displaying the cartoons at the event. I joined Muslim students in an emergency meeting with the university and its administration on Friday to ensure the display will not go ahead. The event itself poses no problems but the pictures, as you know, are racist, offensive and there is really no justification in preaching something that breeds that kind of hate against Muslims. The students at NYU need our help. Can we all send a simple, polite email to John Sexton [email protected], the president of NYU, as well as Bob Butler [email protected] , the director of student activities as NYU, letting them know of your concerns.
I did tell the students that I would try and rally support overseas – so let’s show the NYU administration that if they mess with our brothers and sisters in New York they mess with all of us.
The following is a letter that has already been sent to President Sexton earlier by the imam of the Islamic centre.
Your sister in Islam
Betsy’s e-mail made me realize that I’d received an e-mail from that very same woman, shortly after posting this blog entry! I even wrote her back, not realizing who she was. Here’s her e-mail:
From: [email protected]
Sent: Wednesday, March 29, 2006 12:28 PM
To: [email protected]
Subject: re cartoon saga
May I first compliment you on your ‘noodle’ page, very lively and great fun.
but I am a wee bit alarmed re-your ‘hysteria’ over the Danish cartoons and the very thought that they could be compared to the cartoons used by the Nazis to demonise the Jewish community during the 30s.
This information has come from aminenet Jewish cartoonist Leon Kuhn whose grandparents were murdered by Nazis, victims of the Holocaust.
In his own research he discovered the cartoons which demonised the Jewish people showed them as subversives with bombs hidden in their clothing. One such image showed a Jewish man with grenades hidden in his ringlets.
Ofcourse these are obvious parallels, and I am amazed with your background you seem to be so insensitive to this whole issue.
I just love the obvious lie about her liking NoodleFood! Here’s my reply. (Remember, I just thought she was some random commenter.)
From: Diana Hsieh
Sent: Wednesday, March 29, 2006 12:45 PM
To: ‘[email protected]’
Subject: RE: re cartoon saga
Perhaps instead of focusing upon a concrete similarity — that of cartoons critical of a group — you might ask whether the cartoons in each case have any merit. In the case of the Jews in the 1930s, they did not. They were motivated by the fantasies of anti-Semitism, the same variety that motivates the actual bombings by Muslims of innocent Jews and others today. In contrast, the Danish cartoons were inspired by those actual bombings (and other forms of violence) — widely supported by Muslims today.
Muslims are in no danger whatsoever of being herded into concentration camps by non-Muslims. They have all the freedoms afforded by the civilized West. Instead, it is Muslims advocating the extermination of non-Muslims — and practicing that ideology with their bombs.
After I realized who she was, she wrote me back, just saying, “will reply tomorrow Diana, am busy – have a good day.” And I just replied, “Don’t bother replying. I know who you are now — and what you’re trying to do at NYU.”
Update 5: Canonist reports that the press is effectively barred from the event:
A notice just went out over the AP that the event tonight is closed to the press. I called FIRE to ask what happened, and they said that NYU was closing the event to anyone who didn’t register before noon yesterday. That is essentially shutting out the press, as in all likelihood few even heard of the event until yesterday afternoon. As anyone covering the City knows, even an appearance by Bill Clinton requires a pre-registration of at most a few hours.
Update 7: Here’s another account of the event.
Update 8: Yvonne Ridley wrote me back:
From: [email protected]
Sent: Thursday, March 30, 2006 6:06 AM
To: “Diana Hsieh”
Subject: RE: re cartoon saga
I’m sorry you feel like that. I am, indeed, very transparent in all my dealings which is why I sent you my full name.
And I was genuine about the layout and design of your site.
But, OK, I respect your wishes and your right to hold the views you do.
Update 9: I got an e-mail from one of the organizers of the NYU event indicating that it might be covered on Fox News at 7:00 (EST) tonight, i.e. Shepherd Smith’s Fox Report.
Update 11: FIRE has blogged an interesting report on the NYU panel, most notably that university officials forced a student to remove his t-shirt because it featured the bomb-in-the-turban cartoon, that only about half the duly registered public was admitted, and that at least some members of the press were turned away.
Update 12: One of the good folks from Front Range Objectivism received a response to his letter of protest from NYU’s John Beckman.