News’ View: Offensive speech should still be heard

Forty-six years ago, the Yale administration asked the Yale Political Union to withdraw its invitation to campus to a politician who had become the leading national figure in favor of segregationist policies, Gov. George Wallace of Alabama.

The YPU complied, though students and faculty members reacted largely negatively to Yale’s request. “This kind of action simply does not belong in this great academic community,” the News wrote in this space at the time. “The pressures of time must not dull our allegiance to such a basic duty of a free University.”

This basic duty — encouraging a realm of intellectual freedom without bounds — is being tested today as the Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who drew one of the 12 cartoons that provoked outrage among Muslims four years ago, visits campus to speak at a Branford College Master’s Tea. Some students have said they will protest his appearance, and the Muslim Students Association said its members are “deeply hurt and offended” by Westergaard’s invitation.

“As an institution purportedly committed to making our campus an educational environment where all students feel equally comfortable, we feel that by hosting [him] Yale is undermining its commitment to creating a nurturing learning environment by failing to recognize the religious and racial sensitivity of the issue,” the group said.

It is understandable why Muslim students are upset at Westergaard’s visit, given the insensitivity of his cartoon. But suggesting the University revoke his invitation to speak here runs counter to a bedrock value of an academic community such as this one: that speech with which we disagree should be countered by more speech, rather than be forbidden in the first place.

The Wallace incident is instructive: His views would most definitely have prompted discomfort, but their airing would have added a substantial and valuable — if flagrantly disagreeable — perspective to the campus discourse on a leading debate of the era.

The same can be said for Westergaard. His point of view, though obviously unpopular in the Muslim community and elsewhere, adds to what is one of the paramount discussions of our time, one especially relevant to the post-Sept. 11 generation to which we belong.

The Wallace episode was one of several cited in the Woodward Report, the seminal 1975 document that laid out Yale’s policies on free expression. Prefacing the report was this quotation from Oliver Wendell Holmes: “If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.”

Whether we will leave today hating Westergaard’s viewpoints remains to be seen. In an interview last year with Germany’s Der Spiegel newspaper, he said his cartoon “must not be used against Muslim society as a whole.”

“That was not my intention,” he said. Rather, he described his cartoon as “aiming at fanatic Islamist terrorists.”

Regarding his intentions, Westergaard should be pressed today by members of our community. That is, after all, what we do at a university: challenge ideas and grow our own in the process.

Even — and especially — if they make us uncomfortable.


  • yalie in europe

    which is more offensive: a cartoon parodying islam’s self-reflexive description of it as a religion of peace or the many acts of terror and murder perpetrated in the name of Allah?

    what should be understandable is muslim acts of terror are offensive. cartoons don’t kill. muslims detonating themselves do.

    muslim terror came BEFORE the cartoons.

  • Hieronymus

    I agree, mostly, with the article; however, I have an issue with the title. The title *assumes* that certain speech is objectively (versus subjectively) offensive–and THAT is the problem with, e.g., Yale today. SOME folks find SOME speech offensive, but then apply a rule (a ban, a protest, a vigil, a lawsuit) as if the speech were INHERENTLY objectionable.

    In the case of criticism of Islamofascism, I find the debate stimulating; however, in Muslim countries (under the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights — how ironic…) such criticism is strictly verboten, i.e., inherently offensive.

    The tyranny of the majority (or at least of the vocal minority) is very strong on campus…

  • will

    I really liked this article, really thoughtful and level-headed.

  • Ellen Hume

    An invitation to Yale privileges the speaker and honors him or her with some legitimacy. This is the problem with the invitation for some people, not the fact that the images exist or will be discussed at Yale.

  • The Contrarian

    Our Age has more than its share of Smelly Little Orthodoxies.

  • Alum

    Hieronymus is exactly right.

  • Ali

    >>An invitation to Yale privileges (sic) the speaker and honors him or her with some legitimacy.<<


    Does it really matter whether inviting this man is a “problem…for some people?” Who could Yale invite who would not bother at least a few people?

    I think inviting the catoonist is a delightful idea. It should be a whale of a time.

    The fact that his cartoons prompted riots, destruction of property and murder had very little to do with his cartoons, but a whale of a lot to do with Islam.

    If it had not been the cartoons it would have been something else. There is not a week goes by that we don’t hear of Muslims rioting over something: Israel protecting its citizens from rockets, Sunnis demanding too much power in Yemen, Taliban demanding the Pakistani Army stop being pawns of the west, Turks demanding no mention of their role in murdering 1,000,000+ Armenian Christians, Indoensian Muslims rioting over whether women should be required to wear a burka, and on and on it goes.

    What is a real shame is the Yale Press’ decision not to publish these cartoons, because “The cartoons might bother someone.” The Yale Press is as yellow as any coward I know.

    It’s also a real shame Yale cannot invite Theo Van Gogh. He was murdered by a Muslim because he produced films Muslims did not like. He would have also made for an interesting guest lecturer.

    Giving into Muslim’s incessant demands to limit our freedoms, OUR way of life is not the answer. The answer is for Muslims to accept the notion that this is the 21st century not the 8th.

  • Ali

    This is how it happens. One step at a time. One freedom lost then another.

    Look at the dozens of Islamic countries in Asia and Africa and find me one where individual freedoms (as we understand the words) are respected; where individual rights (as we understand the words) are respected. Freedom of press? Forget about it. Cartoons? Only if they depict Jews as Hitler or Westerners as blood-sucking pigs.

    One step at a time. Another hard fought freedom lost:

    “Now Muslims Demand: Give Us Full Sharia Law,” by Martyn Brown for the Daily Express, October 15:

    A RADICAL Muslim group sparked outrage last night as it launched a massive campaign to impose sharia law on Britain.

    The fanatical group Islam4UK has ­announced plans to hold a potentially ­incendiary rally in London later this month.

    And it is calling for a complete upheaval of the British legal system, its officials and ­legislation.

    Members have urged Muslims from all over Britain to converge on the capital on October 31 for a procession to demand the full implementation of sharia law.

    On a website to promote their cause they deride British institutions, showing a mock-up picture of Nelson’s Column surmounted by a minaret.

    Plans for the demonstration have been ­delivered to the Metropolitan Police and could see up to 5,000 extremists marching to demand the controversial system.

    The procession – dubbed March 4 Shari’ah – will start at the House of Commons, which the group’s website describes as the “very place where the lives of millions of people in the UK are changed and it is from here where unjust wars are launched”.

    The group then intends to march to 10 Downing Street and “call for the removal of the tyrant Gordon Brown from power”.

    The march will then converge on Trafalgar Square where protesters expect it “will gather even more support from tourists and members of the public, making clear in the heart of London the need for Shari’ah in society”.

    The group declared: “We hereby request all Muslims in the United Kingdom, in Manchester, Leeds, Cardiff, Glasgow and all other places to join us and collectively declare that as submitters to Almighty Allah, we have had enough of democracy and man-made law and the depravity of the British culture.

    “On this day we will call for a complete upheaval of the British ruling system its members and legislature, and demand the full implementation of Shari’ah in Britain…”

  • Ali

    One step at a time…

    Hamas-linked CAIR spent $160,000 to silence Michael Savage
    Now, courtesy a very important new book, the full extent of the CAIR thugs’ war on free speech is coming to light. “CAIR spent $160,000 to silence Savage: New book reveals memos behind campaign to run radio star off the air,” by Art Moore for WorldNetDaily, October 14 (thanks to all who sent this in):

    An explosive new book based on a daring six-month undercover operation exposing the subversive agenda of the Council on American-Islamic Relations reveals the Muslim group spent $160,000 in an unsuccessful effort to run top-rated nationally syndicated radio host Michael Savage off the air.

    Internal CAIR documents uncovered in “Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That’s Conspiring to Islamize America” show that despite its high cost and the continued success of Savage’s show, CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad believed the campaign was “worth every penny,” because, he says, the radio star lost at least $1 million in advertising.

    Authors P. David Gaubatz and Paul Sperry recount how CAIR ran out of money before it could crack Savage’s most loyal sponsors.

  • Ali

    One freedom lost after another after another…

    “Criticizing Islam? Sorry, You’re Cancelled
    by Pamela Geller


    Conservative warrior David Horowitz was scheduled to speaking at St. Louis University this month. But he won’t be. University officials canceled his speech because of its title: “Islamo-Fascism Awareness and Civil Rights.”

    Horowitz commented: “I have spoken at 400 universities. This is the first time my speech has been censored and stopped by an administration. And they are supposed to be the guardians of intellectual discourse.” Cary Nelson, the president of the American Association of University Professors, said that with this cancellation, St. Louis University “joins the small group of campuses that are universities in name only…. The free exchange of ideas is not just a comforting offshoot of higher education; it defines the fundamental nature of the enterprise.

    But the free exchange of ideas is something that is increasingly denied to conservative voices. Robert Spencer was set to speak at the American Library Association convention last summer but was canceled at the last minute after pressure from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Michael Savage was set to participate by means of a video link in a debate next Thursday at Britain’s Cambridge Union, but last Wednesday the debate was canceled. Julien Domercq and Jonathan Laurence of the Cambridge Union claimed that “there are numerous legal issues with Dr Savage speaking here…”

  • Joe

    what about David Iriving ? :-P

  • Ali

    Is this what we want?

    Saudi journalist gets 60 lashes for covering story
    Islamic respect for freedom of speech: 60 lashes for covering a story about a man boasting about violating Sharia! Sharia Alert from the Land of the Two Holy Places: “Saudi journalist sentenced to 60 lashes,” by Mohammed Jamjoom for CNN, October 24:

    (CNN) — A Saudi court sentenced a female journalist Saturday to 60 lashes for her work on a controversial Arabic-language TV show that aired an episode in which a man bragged about his sex life, two sources told CNN.
    The court in Jeddah also imposed a two-year travel ban on Rosanna Al-Yami, according to a Saudi Information Ministry official, who could not be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media. The ban prevents her from traveling outside Saudi Arabia…