"Hate Speech" is not "Any Speech You Hate"

michaelscottLast week, Vanderbilt University professor Carol Swain wrote an op-ed in the Nashville Tennessean about the Charlie Hedbo attacks. The basic thesis of Professor Swain’s article, which was published in a non-Vanderbilt sanctioned publication and written on her own time, is that present-day Islam is incompatible with Western values like free speech and religious pluralism. The most inflammatory portion of Prof. Swain’s article is doubtless as follows:


It is fascinating today to watch how world events have vindicated Miller in his warnings about the dangers of radical Islam. It becomes clearer every day that Islam is not just another religion to be accorded the respect given to Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Baha’i and other world religions. The Jan. 7 terrorist attack resulting in 12 deaths at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine that committed the apparently unpardonable sin of lampooning the Prophet Muhammad, once again illustrates that Islam is a dangerous set of beliefs totally incompatible with Western beliefs concerning freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of association.

As Miller has so often stated, Islam has a problem with the West. Islam will never understand the freedoms that we live and die to preserve. If America is to be safe, it must remove the foxes from the henhouses and institute serious monitoring of Islamic organizations.

I will admit that some of Swain’s rhetoric and policy prescriptions in the piece are a little over the top. Although I agree that the West generally does itself a disservice by treating modern Islam as a philosophy that is equally peaceful and conducive to good order as Christianity, I have problems with the suggestion that Muslim organizations should be treated differently under the law. For the same reason that I support the right of Charlie Hedbo to (let us be honest) troll all religions in tacky and classless ways, I oppose the idea that “Civic education and other indicators of assimilation should be a prerequisite for remaining and advancing in this nation[,]” at least insofar as this suggestion is meant to convey censure from a legal standpoint as opposed to a social mores standpoint. For the record, I do support social pressure to assimilate and public censure of violent Islamic teaching by private individuals – the objection I have is to the suggestion that the force of government should be brought to bear against Islamic rhetoric unaccompanied by actual violence – for the same reason that I oppose the force of government being brought to bear against offensive rhetoric of any kind (which would necessarily include Charlie Hedbo). I suspect, probably, that much of what Swain suggests (in true college professor form) is really intended to spur discussion as opposed to being serious policy prescriptions.


What’s interesting to me is not so much Swain’s article, but rather the predictable and infantile response from some of my alma mater’s current students, who responded to this article by having a rally against “hate speech” – by which they meant an op ed in the Tennessean. The Nashville media has dutifully reported on this event as being an actual rally against “hate speech” as opposed to a blatant attempt to shut down a viewpoint. The entire sad spectacle reminds me of Michael Scott’s reaction to finding that someone had defacated on the carpet of his office as a prank:


Under no circumstances can anything Professor Swain wrote be construed as “hate speech” except to the extent that some particularly privileged millenials really hated it.

Mainly, though, I wonder whether the media and other assorted American liberals will ever get tired of pretending that ceaseless trolling of Christianity is “brave” and tough while even mild criticism of Islam on the merits is hateful and out of bounds. A pretty good example of this happened at Vanderbilt when Vanderbilt recently actually disbanded Christian groups for having the temerity to insist that their leadership consist of, you know, Christians, a decision which was met with absolutely zero protests that were fawned upon by the media. Another good example is the indulgence by the media of the notion that Michael Sam proposing to his boyfriend atop St. Peter’s basilica represented an act of bravery, as though Sam faced any realistic danger from violent agents of the Pope in 2015. Meanwhile, left unstated is the dark reality that if Sam had recreated the same publicity stunt in front of the Shrine of the Kaaba, he would likely have not left Mecca alive.


Here is the truth we face in the modern world – if you provoke Christianity or Christians, you face the risk of being mildly criticized by Christians which is more than outweighed by the certainty that you will be feted upon by academia and the media. If you provoke Islam or Muslims, you face the risk of violent reprisal including death. Reasonable people ought to be able to point out that the latter is worse than the former without the additional danger of being protested en masse by idiot leftists who are calling for your job.

The fact that you apparently can’t doesn’t exactly give me comfort for the future survival of Western Civilization.


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