The halls of academia grew narrower this month when faculty at the University of Minnesota were told to remove posters and flyers promoting a discussion panel on Charlie Hebdo. Ironically, the panel was convened to talk about the line between free speech and censorship in the wake of the Paris tragedy. Though the event had already taken place with little fanfare, several students, professors, and outside parties complained about the advertisements, many of which were still up online and around campus. According to Colleen Flaherty at Inside Higher Ed, more than 300 people signed a petition calling the flyers – reproductions of the Charlie Hebdo post-massacre cover featuring Mohammed – “very offensive.”
University officials were alarmed by the response, and they rushed to placate the petitioners with action. The university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action sent a statement to the dean, insisting that the poster had “significant negative repercussions.” The office called on the dean to condemn the image and advocate for “civility and respect” on the part of the university’s faculty.
This was apparently exactly what he did. Dean John Coleman sent out emails to staff, telling them to remove any links to the image online and to take down any posters that might still be hanging up on campus bulletin boards. Coleman walked these requests back after some on the staff balked, insisting that he was merely suggesting that since the event was over, and since it’s such a touchy subject, that maybe one “possible response” would be to erase any evidence that such a flyer had ever existed. But, you know, completely your choice, staff members.
As it stands now, it appears that professors at the University of Minnesota who believe in academic freedom and free speech have narrowly escaped the leaden hand of mob-driven censorship. But the fact that there was ever the slightest doubt about it should be of concern to anyone who wants to retain the right to unrestrained expression. Free speech is under assault, particularly when it comes to Islam. University officials, magazine editors, and others are terrified of the violent repercussions seen in Paris and again in Garland, Texas. Little by little, Muslims are winning the right to censor – not through peaceful boycotts or well-reasoned arguments, but rather through bloodshed.
The only way to fight this arrogant righteousness is through practicing outright defiance. When one innocent cartoonist goes down, one thousand Mohammed cartoons should go up. In response to the attack in Garland, one New York Times writer asked if there was any decent reason to hold a “Draw Mohammed” cartoon, “aside from free speech.” And the answer is: if there is, there is no better one. Radical zealots have brought us to this point and mainstream Muslims have done nothing to distance themselves from the terrorists. Until there are Muslims willing to defend the Pamela Gellers and the Charlie Hebdos right alongside anti-Islam critics, they do not deserve a voice in our democracy. Get offended, get used to it, and get over it.
Or get out.