A recent speech by Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to take place at UC Berkeley. Angry protesters surrounded the facility and demanded the event to be called off. A fire was set and the protesters became violent, ultimately resulting in the cancellation of the speech.
This is unacceptable.
Milo has been rightfully critiqued for his abrasive arguments. He often outlines a platform that can border on bigotry, misogyny, and white nationalism. He is a religious, crude, and intentionally aggressive public speaker. Liberals and progressive writers like myself detest many of his ideas and cringe at his speeches. The majority of the time he appears disturbed and communicates as if every sentence is a troll against the world doused in his own arrogance and ignorance.
But he has every right to speak.
Milo has every right to present his arguments, to share his ideas, and to articulate his opinions. In many moments he is clearly ignorant and even hateful, but in others he brings unique and interesting perspectives to topics such as feminism and race. He has every right to express his thoughts, both clever and foolish, especially at a University.
Universities were once champions of free speech. Students stood firm against the establishment to create spaces where anyone could come and share ideas. Now, Universities such as Berkeley, have stained the great legacy of free speech they once upheld. To many Milo is a pathetic character and instigator but at a University he has every right to speak and to be heard. Students then have every right to debate and challenge his claims and ideas.
Universities are specifically the place where these debates need to occur. Everyone has a right to share their views and everyone else has a right to digest and challenge them. Students need to absorb any value that he speaks, analyze his evidence, and form honest opinions. He might prove to be correct on some issues, or he might be inept and incompetent.
If he is wrong, then we will learn through debates, through arguments, and through evidence. Not by banning him, and not by stealing his right to speak. Silencing an opposition, no matter how much you hate them, is against the values of a university, of liberalism, and of intellectualism. It is illogical and contradictory to protest Milo’s apparent distortions and infringements of Liberal values but then attempt to silence him.
If we are to stand up against the fascists of the world, or the demagogues, or the fear mongering public speakers, then we must do so while upholding our core values. We can not defend liberalism or progressivism or democracy if we do not stand by our own principles.
If you do not support free speech for your enemies, or for those you hate, then you do not support free speech. Universities are better than this.
Stand up for free speech.
By Daniel Govedar (Last Updated May 2017)