Silencing Milo Yiannopoulos: Berkeley’s Shameful Quashing of a Dissenting Voice
On February 1, the University of California-Berkeley witnessed a degrading moment for higher education in the United States. A planned talk by Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos was canceled, after protesters threw smoke bombs and flares at the student union building where he was scheduled to speak.
“Violent left-wing protesters stormed the building and forced me to be evacuated by police and by my security detail,” Yiannopoulos told Fox News in a phone interview from an undisclosed location.
Protesters knocked down barriers, set fires and started fights in the south campus area, police said.
Yiannopoulos was not the only one exposed to violence. A supporter of US President Donald Trump’s, giving an interview outside the cancelled event, was pepper-sprayed by someone in the crowd.
Yiannopoulos, 32, is a well-known political commentator and a vocal Trump supporter. His talks have sparked protests, shouting matches and occasional violence at stops around the US. A man was shot and wounded at demonstrations outside his January 21 appearance at the University of Washington.
Twenty-four years ago, another “marginalized” thinker was violently targeted. The location was the Sivas province of Turkey. And the perpetrators were jihadists.
On July 1, 1993, a cultural event named after the Alevi poet Pir Sultan Abdal, in which several well-known authors and artists – mostly Alevi intellectuals – participated, opened in the province of Sivas. Aziz Nesin, a prominent Turkish writer and an open critic of Islam, was one of the participants of the event. Islamists were not happy.
On July 2, a crowd headed for the Madimak Hotel where the Alevi intellectuals were staying. They were chanting, “Down with secularism,” “We want Sharia” and “Allahu Akbar.”
The hotel was besieged; there were thousands of Islamists around it. The massacre started with the burning of cars in front of the hotel, and then the mob set fire to the building. The fire spread to the sound of the chants of “Allahu akbar.” Only a handful of soldiers and police officers were dispatched to the area, and as people in the hotel neared their deaths, security forces stood idly by. This went on for for hours. By the time soldiers finally got the attack under control, 33 mostly Alevi intellectuals and two hotel staff members had lost their lives in the fire. Luckily, Nesin, who was 78 years old at the time, survived.
In an interview that day, Nesin said: “If someone insults [Islam], I won’t tell them not to or if someone insults Christianity, I won’t tell them not to either. Civilized persons offer an answer if they are exposed to an injustice. But not by attacking, killing or snarling. If they are civilized, they will do what civilization requires.”
Ironically, the public affairs department of UC Berkeley announced on January 31:
Alarmed by the announcement of a scheduled campus appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos, the right-wing provocateur who has built a lucrative brand on inflammatory speech, a group of UC Berkeley faculty wrote Chancellor Nicholas Dirks in early January to urge him to call it off.
Although we object strenuously to Yiannopoulos’s views — he advocates white supremacy, transphobia and misogyny — it is rather his harmful conduct to which we call attention in asking for the cancellation of this event,” read the first of two letters from faculty members. The letters were eventually signed by more than 100 Berkeley faculty.
However, in many of his speeches, Yiannopoulos (who, despite the charge of “transphobia,” happens to be gay) has stressed that he opposes white supremacy. “White pride, white nationalism, white supremacy isn’t the way to go,” he said, “The way to go is reminding them and yourselves that you should be aspiring to values and to ideas. You should be focusing on what unites people, not what drives them apart.”
In direct contrast to the charges directed at him for being a “misogynist,” Yiannopoulos has several times publicly condemned the persecution of women and homosexuals in Muslim societies.
Nesin had also been told by the interviewer that Muslims were provoked by his writings and by the Turkish translation of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. He responded, “They can be provoked; what shall we do about it? But a human does not attack when provoked… Civilized people, enlightened people show their reaction through writing, speaking and expressing themselves. They just don’t attack. They don’t attempt to kill, hit or beat people.”
Thankfully, no one was killed at the UC Berkeley campus. It was largely due to the fact that the police gave “multiple dispersal orders” on the campus. In Sivas, Turkish security forces left the defenseless Alevi intellectuals to die.
One should be fearful of any attempts to shut down free speech. Calls for immediate, specific violence should be opposed and prosecuted if warranted. But other than that, the cure for bad ideas and information is better ideas and better information.
Stifling free speech is what Sharia blasphemy law is all about. Sharia is the Islamic legal system that governs and shapes the political and social lives of Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Sharia is explicitly opposed to freedom of thought and the free exchange of ideas. According to its injunctions, leaving Islam and denying or criticizing any verse of the Koran is punishable by death. Shutting down free speech – either through Sharia or other totalitarian ideologies – is a path to mental slavery and dictatorial regimes.
Banning Yiannopoulos from expressing his views is not a substitute for refuting them. If progressives think Yiannopoulos’s views are wrong, the answer to misleading presentations is other presentations and other lecturers, not shutting them down. For example, another commentator who disagrees with Yiannopoulos could have been invited to speak at a separate event.
Many students across the world – from Islamic totalitarian regimes to communist totalitarian ones, such as North Korea – must be envying the freedoms students enjoy at American universities. Progressive activists at American institutions of higher learning should stop putting themselves to shame by acting like jihadists who oppose free speech and practice violence.