A speech by Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to take place at UC Berkeley on February 1st 2017. 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 agitative public speaker. Liberals and progressive writers like myself detest him and his speeches. He communicates as if every sentence is a troll against the world doused in his own arrogance and ignorance. I personally find him repulsive.
But he has every right to speak.
Milo has every right to present his arguments, to share his ideas, and to articulate his opinions. 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.
Students should either not attend his speeches, or attend and listen carefully. They should absorb any value that he speaks. If he has something useful to say then it is worth hearing it. He might prove to be correct on some issues, or he might be inept and incompetent. If he is wrong, then let that be proven through debate, dialogue, and evidence. Not by lighting fires and threatening violence. If his ideas are so obviously false then let them be exposed. Bad ideas will vanish when better ones replace them, not when they are banned or suppressed.
Silencing an opposition, no matter how much you hate them, is against the values of a university, of liberalism, and of intellectualism. It is contradictory to protest Milo’s threat to progressive values and liberal ideals, but then hypocritically remove his right to free speech.
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. Defend free speech.
By Daniel Govedar (Last Updated Feb 2018)