As hard as it may be to believe, the phrase “Banned in Boston” was once used by book publishers as a badge of honor, to note a work of cultural, political (or erotic) significance too dangerous to be allowed in a town dominated by pious bluebloods. Today the phrase “Banned at Berkeley” could be used in much the same way. The only difference is that the pieties have changed, as Bill Maher is discovering, for his outspoken and heretical view that Islam is not a religion of peace.
Last week Maher was tapped as the commencement speaker for the University of California-Berkeley’s December graduation. Stung by the news they might be addressed by a man whose views deviate in the slightest from the modern orthodoxy, Berkeley’s Social Justice Warriors sprang into action:
In response to an announcement last week that comedian Bill Maher would speak at UC Berkeley’s fall commencement, an online petition started circulating Thursday that demanded that the campus rescind its invitation.
The Change.org petition was authored by ASUC Senator Marium Navid, who is backed by the Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian Coalition, or MEMSA, and Khwaja Ahmed, an active MEMSA member. The petition, which urges students to boycott the decision and asks the campus to stop him from speaking, has already gathered more than 1,400 signatures as of Sunday.
Bill Maher of course does not have a right to speak as the invited guest at Berkeley’s commencement, though to its credit, Berkeley’s administration has so far resisted the call to remove him. The movement to disinvite Maher is not an infringement of his constitutionally protected freedom of speech, because it comes from private citizens as much entitled to express their views as Maher. At the same time, the special snowflakes of Berkeley (the vast majority of whom won’t even be attending a ceremony for late or early graduates) don’t have a right to be shielded from a speaker whose views they may find unappealing. The rush to take Maher off the podium isn’t “censorship” in the classical sense, as he’s an invited guest, not a speaker in the “public square.” Rather, it’s a preemptive attempt to pressure Berkeley into a heckler’s veto, based on his humiliation of Matt Damon. (Or Ben Affleck, I forget which.)
The Idea Of A University
It seems a quaint notion in the 21st century, but at one time it was thought that a university might assist its students by exposing them to challenging ideas, to be tested in the fires of debate, and thereby to arrive at something approximating an education. Old Thinker John Henry Newman, who as a Catholic convert in 19th century England endured more scorn than any member of Berkeley’s Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian Coalition put it thus:
Though they cannot pursue every subject which is open to them, they will be gainers by living among those and under those who represent the whole circle. This I conceive to be the advantage of the seat of universal learning.
By this, Cardinal Newman meant among other things that university students can grow by being exposed to a broad spectrum of fields of learning, and ideas, from a variety of perspectives. Even ideas they might find repugnant (as any conservative or libertarian who’s attended a top flight university could tell you). If the purpose of a liberal education is to make young men and women worldly, they’re going to have to roll up their sleeves and wrestle in the mud with unpleasant thoughts, even thoughts as horrible as those expressed by Bill Maher concerning Islam, genital mutilation, blasphemy laws, and the beheading of infidels.
A liberal curriculum that shields its students from opposing views serves them poorly indeed. Outside the groves of academe, in the real world of horrible jobs, the best and brightest of Berkeley won’t be protected from such heresy. They’ll have to engage with the Bill Mahers of this world as best they can, and they might as well learn to do so in college, by wallowing in such ideas.
If you can’t run with the big pigs, stay out of the pen.
Beat The Bully
As anyone who’s been on the wrong end of a high school or college whispering campaign knows, the Streisand Effect is real. The harder one tries to suppress an idea, the wider it spreads. And as Matt Damon (or Ben Affleck, I forget which), could attest, Bill Maher has millions of viewers and quite a megaphone.
If the aspiring censors of Berkeley wish to deny Maher’s views on Islam, they’re not going to succeed even on campus, where their fellow students have access to HBO and YouTube. No, the best they can do is to give Maher an excuse, a casus belli, to jump on his high horse and shout to the high heavens (a figure of speech for you atheists) that he’s being silenced at a bastion of higher learning by the Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian Coalition, just as they do in Pakistan. Watch that video go viral on Facebook and Twitter.
Here’s a thought for the students at Berkeley. If you want to shut down Bill Maher’s hate speech against Muslims, why not invite him to a post-address debate, against your best and brightest? You’re well educated young men and women. You can certainly produce better informed and more eloquent speakers than Matt Damon (or Ben Affleck, I forget which) to rebut Maher’s bigotry. And if you can’t, you might learn something.
I understand how it feels, Berkeley. Way back in 2001, when you were playing with Pokemons or whatever it was toddlers did in those days, I was infuriated by Maher’s remarks on the bravery of a certain group of Muslims. Maher is an equal opportunity firebrand, ass, and bully.
The best way to deal with a bully is to beat him on his own ground. In Maher’s case, that means to let him speak, and to beat him in debate. It would be a fitting capstone to your college career.
Congratulations on your impending graduation.