Freedom of Speech Is Under Assault in America: Book Review of The Silencing: How the Left Is Killing Free Speech, by Kirsten Power
by Johanna Markind • Jan 5, 2016 at 7:55 am
Besides being intrinsically interesting and well-written, Kirsten Powers' book, The Silencing, adds useful perspective to the struggle against Islamist suppression of speech about radical Islam. Powers notes the attempt to squelch discussion of Islam, but places it in a broader context.
As the subtitle suggests, the author views the struggle as one of the political left – what Powers calls the "illiberal left" – obstructing expression of any facts or opinions to which it is ideologically opposed. This may not be news to politically-incorrect people, but it likely will be to many on what the author calls the "liberal left." Presumably, that is the target audience Powers hopes to persuade. She generally counts herself a member of the liberal left, except that her religious views (committed Christian) are more common on the other side of the political spectrum.
The author recounts efforts to suppress speech of pro-life activists, critics (however slight) of "black lives matter" activism, gay marriage opponents, and political conservatives generally, and devotes two full chapters to the American university scene. Anyone who has recently read an American newspaper should be aware that threats to free speech are particularly pervasive on the university campus. Institutions that once prided themselves on freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas now routinely allow students, faculty, administrators, and invited speakers to be shouted down or intimidated into silence. The problem extends well beyond the academy. Those advocating politically incorrect opinions may lose their job or their business.
Perhaps most illuminating is Powers' illustration of how the illiberal left confuses speech with action. "Disagreement becomes violence" in this worldview, she writes, and "offending them is akin to physical assault." Hence, the University of California at Santa Barbara professor who assaulted a pro-life demonstrator and stole and destroyed the demonstrator's sign thought she was somehow acting defensively and had done nothing wrong.
No doubt, Islamist assailants who claim criticism of their religion or of Muhammad is a provocation to violence would feel right at home in that mindset.
As readers of this website know, similar pressures have been brought to bear against people who exposed radical Islam. Besides censorship, on the university campus and elsewhere, critics of Islam or Muhammad risk lawsuits designed to impoverish them, arrest, boycott, and even death. The Middle East Forum Legal Project was begun to protect people targeted for violence and harassment because of what they said about Islam.
Perhaps the book's most striking mention of leftist reluctance to criticize Islam is as a counterpoint to feminist opposition to "rape culture." The author recounts illiberal feminist opposition to dress codes and the like on the grounds that they supposedly promote a "rape culture", by encouraging male sexual aggression and supporting violence against women. Powers contrasts this with the lack of reaction by feminists to the scandal uncovered in Rotherham, England. Over a period of sixteen years, some 1,400 schoolgirls were raped, abused, and trafficked, while police and child protection services turned a blind eye because they did not want to be branded as "racist" – read, anti-Muslim – for arresting the Pakistani Muslim perpetrators. "Perhaps they didn't know what to do with a real 'rape culture,'" Powers speculates.
The context Powers provides is helpful in exposing what critics of Islam are up against and identifies potential allies in the struggle against speech suppression. In essence, any other targets of the PC police have a stake in protecting freedom of speech. Furthermore, reactions to the well-publicized campus protests last fall offer a glimmer of hope that the public, including the media, is beginning to realize that things have gone too far and must be remedied.
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