On 1 February, smoke bombs were tossed, windows were smashed and the campus space was lit up in a massive bonfire. If you think this is an excerpt from a dystopian novel, you would be very wrong.
The violence erupted as part of protests carried out by 1,500 students from the University of California at Berkeley to oppose a talk that was to be delivered by Milo Yiannopoulos, the technology editor at Breitbart News and gay conservative commentator. The extent of vandalism prompted the university officials to cancel the talk.
Of course, the officials have accused outsiders and not residential students for the vandalism. The university said in a statement,
We condemn in the strongest possible terms the violence and unlawful behavior that was on display and deeply regret that those tactics will now overshadow the efforts to engage in legitimate and lawful protest against the performer’s presence and perspectives.
UC Berkeley Police Chief Margo Bennet said,
This was a group of agitators who were masked up, throwing rocks, commercial grade fireworks and Molotov cocktails at officers.
Condemning the disgraceful violence, US President Donald Trump warned of federal funding cuts if UC Berkeley did not allow free speech.
The vandalism at the campus was preceded by protesters carrying signs that read "Hate Speech Is Not Free Speech.”
Yiannopoulos, a controversial internet personality, was invited to speak at Berkeley by the campus Republican club. Following the violent demonstration, he wrote on Facebook,
One thing we do know for sure: the Left is absolutely terrified of free speech and will do literally anything to shut it down.
Ironically, it was at UC Berkeley that the Free Speech Movement began in the 1960s when a massive student resistance opposed attempts by college authorities to curb campus political activism.
Previous unruly protests at the University of California, Davis, on 13 January prompted campus Republicans to cancel Yiannopoulos’ appearance at the eleventh hour. The most vocal of the protesters defended their actions by saying he was a racist, misogynist, chauvinist who didn’t deserve a platform.
This is not the first time that Berkeley has stalled people with opposing views to share the campus stage.
Earlier in December 2014, outspoken comedian and social commentator Bill Maher faced a student-led movement blocking his scheduled speech at the university’s graduation ceremony. An online petition against him gathered nearly 6,000 signatures.
Maher was unwelcome because of his views on Islamic extremism, which several Muslim students claimed would spread fear and bigotry. The level of hostility of the protesters made the student group that invited Maher later retract their offer. However, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks intervened at the time, saying it was a matter of free speech.
On the day of his appearance, a small but vocal group of protesters had planned to disrupt the proceedings, arguing that Dirks was supporting racism and Islamophobia by allowing Maher to speak at the campus. A protest sign read:
I’m oppressed by Islamophobia, not Islam.
Even during Maher’s speech, a group of protesters silently rose in the audience and held up a series of placards that read, “Dear Admin (administrators), Don’t Maher Our Commencement!”
So much for free speech in campuses!
But Berkeley is not the only case. Consider (linked article behind paywall) the following:
1) In March last year, students of Emory University created a ruckus with the officials after someone had written, in chalk, the words “Trump 2016” on walls around the campus. The ‘traumatised’ students termed the mere writing on the wall as an act of violence.
2) In November 2015, Princeton University students occupied the university president’s office ordering the name Woodrow Wilson, America’s 28th President, to be cleansed from the campus. These students also demanded “cultural competency training” for faculty members and the introduction of mandatory courses on marginalised peoples.
The common theme running through all of these cases is American students asking for their campuses to be turned into “safe spaces”, where a category of ideas and identities are not to be challenged, and with demands for trigger warnings -- cautionary statements that professors are expected to give about any course reading that might traumatise students.
Also, in all such cases, students in these US-based universities are both left-wing activists and openly hostile to free speech.
On 11 February, the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, released a survey which included 1,41,189 full-time, first-year students. According to the survey, close to 71 per cent of the freshmen said “colleges should prohibit racist/sexist speech on campus”.
Now, of course, the work of identifying a speech as “racist” or “sexist” ought to be done by the leftist guardians of campuses, right? Those who use the threat of disruption and vocal petitions to cause mayhem in their respective institutions.
If we go by their logic, the ‘bigoted’ speakers who have been disinvited by universities in the past few years include feminism critic Suzanne Venker, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde, women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. These new-age, ultra-leftist campuses are now fostering hypersensitivity and conformity by instilling ‘identity politics’ in the fabric of the university.
But activities of leftist activists are not just limited to disruption. They also manipulate employment of university staff. Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at New York University, has explained how the share of conservatives in academia has plunged over the years.
Universities are unlike other institutions in that they absolutely require that people challenge each other so that the truth can emerge from limited, biased, flawed individuals... If they lose intellectual diversity, or if they develop norms of ‘safety’ that trump challenge, they die. And this is what has been happening since the 1990s.
Now, why should Indians care about what happens in US universities? Because similar tales have been woven in our backyards as well.
For instance, we often hear several eminent left-wing intellectuals compare Prime Minister Modi with the recently-elected US President Trump. However, these eminences fail to notice the overt similarities between the ‘sieged’ universities in the US, like Berkeley, with the citadel of Indian ultra-leftism, the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Claiming to be a pluralist institution which cherishes India’s ‘secular ethos’, the JNU campus is famed for constantly aggravating Hindus and their religious beliefs, by the joint leftist-Islamist (LI) alliance. The campus has also witnessed calls for the annihilation of Hinduism.
This was on full display in 2001 when during the Durga Puja celebrations, the then dean M H Quraishi exhorted the LI student goons to throw the murti and pandal out of the campus. Unfortunately, every Hindu festival in the campus is supplemented by an abusive poster calling for its ban and annihilation. It is not just festivals but also individuals who are targeted by the LI cabal.
As JNU alumni and scholar Abhinav Prakash has noted,
Hindu students, especially from the SC/ST or OBC backgrounds, are mentally harassed for being Hindu and sometimes, are aggressively pressurized to boycott Hindu festivals and throw the picture or the murti of their deity that they may have, into the dustbin. It is to be noted that no such discussion is ever done with regard to Islam or Christianity, which are instead praised to the skies by the atheist and Islamist comrades.
The practice of disruption was perfected by JNU long before their American comrades had a go at it. Among the ones at the receiving end of JNU agitations are former prime minister Manmohan Singh, former US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs Richard A Boucher, the then Gujarat chief minister (now Prime Minister) Narendra Modi, yoga guru Ramdev and controversial writer and commentator Tarek Fatah.
And, of course, who can forget last year’s ‘Cultural Evening’, called by the same cabal at JNU to memorialise terrorists Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat, and deride the “Brahmanical collective conscience”? The consequential events following that evening turned JNU into a battleground with the arrest of some prominent student leaders, chief among them the controversial Kanhaiya Kumar.
In response, the left cadres at the university organised open-air classes on national and social narratives on ‘independence’ and ‘freedom.’ But slowly, it became clear that the platform was not to be shared with anyone with an opinion contrary to the leftist one. On 7 March last year, the cadre shouted down Makarand Paranjape, a poet and a professor of English, at a campus event. Paranjape, who was speaking in the open-air class, was even catcalled by the leftist students in the audience.
As the one-year anniversary of JNU's fiasco nears, it serves us well to know how the legacy of democratic values celebrated by both India and the US is getting eroded by students with a debauched sense of liberty.
Update: A reader pointed out that noted Indic scholar Rajiv Malhotra who has also been at the receiving end of being disrupted by Leftist groups during his talk at Columbia University.
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