Professor Barry Rubin is exercised, as he should be, by the cancellation of yet another scholarly address, rationalized by the fear that it might offend (in this case, as in many others) certain Muslims.
Jake Witzenfeld, president of Cambridge University's Israel Society, canceled a talk by Benny Morris, an Israeli scholar, apologizing for any "unintended offense." "I decided to cancel for fear of the Israel Society being portrayed as a mouthpiece of Islamophobia," he said. "We understand that whilst Professor Benny Morris' contribution to history is highly respectable and significant, his personal views are, regrettably, deeply offensive to many....”How many of these stories will we have to read before we realize that the culture that raised before the world the banner of freedom is busily rolling it up out of pure, undisguised cowardice? Rubin continues:
Mr. Witzenfeld should resign his position immediately since by leading a pro-Israel group he will no doubt be portrayed as all sorts of slanderous things and give offense to people. After all, the existence of Israel itself is “offensive” to many Muslims and others, which is not a reason for wiping it out, presumably. As Witzenfeld might know, pro-Israel groups have been banned on British campuses before and perhaps this is what he fears.
As for giving offense, his cowardice offends me, if that's his criterion for making decisions. Hopefully, someone less fearful can be found to head the society.
But what is most shocking about this travesty is Witzenfield's phrase “being portrayed as.” In other words, the mere fear that someone might claim that you are racist or Islamophobic—even if you know you aren’t and even if you know the speaker isn’t--is now a cause to refuse to hear a speaker or discuss an idea in the United Kingdom. Following the Witzenfield rule, any serious discussion of Middle East politics, terrorism, religion, and lots of other subjects should be banned since there are definitely those who will portray opinions they don't like as hateful, offensive, and racist (even if they have nothing to do with race).Cliche though it is, Edmund Burke's admonition hasn't lost any of its pertinence: All that it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Today we have learned to rationalize our cowardice with rhetorically vacuous platitudes. Our children and grandchildren will pay the price for our timidity.
What does the kind of behavior evidenced at Cambridge--and many other recent examples can be cited-- do but turn slander into a very effective weapon, indeed an irresistible weapon. Now if Muslims or leftists or antisemites or anti-Americans don’t like someone or something they can just attack him or her or it—even proving the accusations have some basis in truth is not important—and destroy their ability to speak to an audience.
This began with the refusal to admit Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician, to the United Kingdom and it is spreading to the point where the basic rights taken for granted by people living in democratic societies are now in jeopardy, at least in Western Europe. Wilders himself is now on trial in the Netherlands for using his right of speech. . . .