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And those were the good days
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It hasn’t been the best few days for free expression. There’s that Robert Redeker, the French teacher now in hiding for writing a column in Le Figaro that had the prophet Muhammad (bedeviled is his name) as “a merciless warlord, a looter, a mass-murderer of Jews and a polygamist,” and the Koran as “a book of incredible violence.” (He must’ve missed the class on David and those parts of the Bible that read like a John Woo screenplay: “And I will set My jealousy against you, that they may deal with you in wrath. They will remove your nose and your ears; and your survivors will fall by the sword. They will take your sons and your daughters; and your survivors will be consumed by the fire.” A book of incredible gentility, that Ezekiel [ 23:25]). Still, Redeker shouldn’t be in hiding for pointing out the satanic verses du jour and making Michelle Malkin’s point (see below), that other right-winging zealot whose Benedictine quotes about Islam got her booted off YouTube for uploading them there. But she turns out to be one of many censored uploaders.

As the Times pointed out last week, YouTube has become a pipeline of uncensored videos from Iraq and other fronts—until the folks at YouTube get a few complaints, at which point they either take down the video or put it behind a semi-wall that informs the user that he could be offended by what he sees. I hear a lot of justifications for the censoring: “It’s YouTube’s Web site, they’re free to set the limits they please,” and so on and so forth. Well, yes, but YouTube’s immense popularity was generated by its alleged eclecticism, and by its very nature has made it something of a public site. Paradoxically, more allowance now seems to be given to protecting people from being offended than to letting free expression roam at the user’s risk.

No one is forcing anyone from downloading and watching these things. Unlike television, it’s not as if the stuff just happens to be part of the programming—“I was just sitting there with my child,” goes the Joe Lieberman-like plaint, “and up came this obscenity.” No no. On You Tube it takes pre-meditated doing to see a video. It’s the home-computer equivalent of making the effort to go to the video store. It takes will and patience. It takes clicking “download.” Or view. Or “Confirm.” Or “Yes, I know I’m about to see something that will offend me if I’m the type who doesn’t like watching my brave American GIs get blown up by IEDs and the video says “IED WORLD!!” Which diminishes to nil the censors’ argument that these things ought not be out there for what they could do to the uninitiated. They don’t want them out there purely because they want the images censored. (I’ll be writing about this in Tuesday’s column for the News-Journal.)

Finally in this week of repression and hypocrisy, we had the little shop of horror that protesters made of a lecture at Columbia University by Jim Gilchrist, the founder of that vigilante band of fanatics known as the Minuteman Project. Those madmen “patrol” the U.S.-Mexico border, on the lookout for illegal immigrants, whom they proceed to “turn-over” to authorities, no doubt after giving the illegals a special (and specially bruising) temporary welcome. The Minutemen have been getting their share of press, and as a lecture guest Jim Gilchrist obviously has been cashing in. At least he’s out there lecturing and facing what must be pretty interesting music. At Columbia, it turned into something of a rap sheet.

Protesters shouted the guy down and turned violent, preventing him from giving his talk. Liberal, left-wing protesters, we’re talking about. Liberal in name only: Anyone who shouts someone down is as liberal as George W. Bush. It got a lot worse than shouting the guy down, of course. (See for yourself.)That was no protest at Columbia University. It was “liberals” acting out their Minutemen fantasies, turning vigilantes on the Head Vigilante. Gilchrist called them “a 21 st century Nazi movement.” I don’t know that I’d go anywhere near that stupid statement, least of all from a man who owes his fame, such as it is, to a neo-fascist organization that considers border-crossers sub-human, white Americans superior, and federal law something to hold in contempt. He’s not in the very best position to be giving lessons about students who at least have immaturity and the defense of a high ideal (if treating illegal immigrants as equals is, as I think it is, an ideal) on their side.

But that’s besides the point. It wouldn’t matter who the speaker is. The more controversial, the better: that’s what universities are supposed to do. Open up their stages to opposite views. Reprehensible views if necessary. Not preach to choirs. We go to school to get our brains knocked senseless by views and knowledge we’re uncomfortable with, by ideas that subvert our beliefs, by belief systems that smash up our own. We’re lucky to be so immersed, to have those chances. No one, incidentally, was forced to go to that lecture by Gilchrist. So those who stopped it are worse than the little mobs that merely complain to YouTube to have a video removed. They’re the actual instruments of repression. They’re the antithesis of a university’s purpose. But so it is these days. It isn’t enough to protest. Counter-argument is too much of an effort. For lack of ideas to counter the repressive, repression begets repression.

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