[Marxism] NY Times report on Columbia Minuteman meeting
lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Oct 7 08:48:18 MDT 2006
NY TImes, October 7, 2006
Silencing of a Speech Causes a Furor
By KAREN W. ARENSON and DAMIEN CAVE
When protesters stormed a Columbia University stage on Wednesday
evening, shutting down a speech by the head of a fiercely
anti-immigration group, they not only stopped the program, but also
hurtled the university back into the debate over free speech on campus.
The fracas, which came just weeks after the president of Iran was
invited to speak at Columbia and then told not to come, was captured
live by Columbia's student-run television station, CTV, as well as by
two commercial stations. It was shown repeatedly on television in New
York yesterday and was widely available on the Internet.
Yesterday Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg chastised Columbia for the
disruption. "I think it's an outrage that somebody that was invited
to speak didn't get a chance to speak," he said in response to a
question on his weekly radio program.
"Bollinger's just got to get his hands around this," Mr. Bloomberg
added, referring to Columbia's president, Lee C. Bollinger. "There
are too many incidents at the same school where people get censored,"
he said, using Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as an example.
This time the speaker, invited by a campus Republican group, was Jim
Gilchrist, the head of the Minuteman Project, which assembled
hundreds of volunteers last year, some armed, to patrol the
Arizona-Mexico border for illegal immigrants.
Mr. Bollinger, a legal scholar whose specialty is free speech and the
First Amendment, quickly condemned this week's disruption.
"Students and faculty have rights to invite speakers to the campus,"
he said yesterday in an interview. "Others have rights to hear them.
Those who wish to protest have rights to do so. No one, however,
shall have the right or the power to use the cover of protest to
He added, "There is a vast difference between reasonable protest that
allows a speaker to continue, and protest that makes it impossible
for speech to continue."
Monique Dols, a senior in history at Columbia's School of General
Studies, said she had mounted the stage in protest and unfurled a
banner but that at such events in the past the speakers had kept going.
"We have always been escorted off the stage and the event continues,"
she said, adding that this time the protesters were attacked.
"We were punched and kicked," she said. "Unfortunately, the story
being circulated is that we initiated the violence."
While college campuses have long been battlegrounds for freedom of
speech issues, Columbia seems to attract more attention than most
when such problems arise, perhaps because of its location in New York
and its history of political protest.
Mr. Bollinger, who has held high-level positions at the University of
Michigan and Dartmouth, said he did not believe that Columbia was
unusual in the number of disputes over free speech. Officials are
studying whether disciplinary steps are warranted, he said.
On campus yesterday, many people condemned the silencing of Mr. Gilchrist.
"I think it was really wrong not to let him speak," said Anusha
Sriram, 18, a Columbia freshman studying political science and human
rights, who moved to the United States from Mumbai five years ago.
"He wasn't being violent. He was giving his view peacefully."
She said she was upset that by keeping Mr. Gilchrist from speaking,
the protesters had unwittingly turned the tables of the discussion
"That just undermined the entire protest," she said. "Now everyone
looks at the protest in a bad light instead of him in a bad light."
She added, "They should invite him back and maybe set up a debate."
The program was sponsored by the Columbia University College
Republicans, a five-year-old group that says on its Web site that it
has 600 members. Its president, Chris Kulawik, a junior, is described
on the site as a "staunch conservative" who "endeavors to attain the
cherished title of 'Most Despised Person on Campus.' "
He said he was "very much surprised" by Wednesday night's events.
"We always understood that this is a very left-wing campus," he said.
"But to see your peers resort to physical violence because they
disagree with you is very frightening."
He said he had been working to ensure there is more campus security
next week when his group has three more potentially controversial
speakers, including Walid Shoebat, a former P.L.O. member, and Hilmar
von Campe, an author who fought for Germany during World War II.
When asked how he chooses speakers, and whether he tries to stir up
controversy, he said he chooses people that his group's members request.
Wei Wei Hsing, 20, is a junior at Columbia and general manager of the
Columbia Political Union, which has frequently co-sponsored events
with the College Republicans, including a lecture by John Ashcroft
last year. She criticized both Mr. Gilchrist's supporters and the
protesters for yelling and shouting before the lecture started,
setting a tone of intolerance. But she said the controversy simply
reflected the political mood. "The polarization of the country in
general is reflected in the microcosm of Columbia," she said. "And
because people here happen to read the news more, and talk about
politics, it's expressed more outwardly."
The Minuteman Project, which calls itself a "citizens' vigilance
operation," featured photos, video and news accounts of the Columbia
events yesterday on its Web site and said they amounted "a riot."
"At Columbia University free speech took quite the hit," it said. "At
an event hosted by the college Republicans at Columbia we were
reminded that the left advocates free speech only for those who
regurgitate the same tripe that they spew."
Columbia officials said yesterday that while there had been pushing
and shoving on stage, as protesters surrounded Mr. Gilchrist and
others tried to defend him, there were no reports of injuries.
Mr. Bollinger said he believed that the importance of free speech
must be reinforced repeatedly. He said he hoped to do "a number of
things" over the next several weeks to accomplish that on campus.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties
Union, said yesterday, "Academic freedom thrives when all ideas,
including racist ideas, have the opportunity to be aired."
Matthew Sweeney contributed reporting.
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