More Islamo-Fascism Week, and a Defense of Parody
It’s baaaaackkk. According to Horowitz’s Students for Academic Freedom, “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week will be conducted again during the spring semester, from April 7-11, 2008.” And that’s fine. Although I question this misuse of the term “fascism” and wonder whether a similar crusade against “Jewish Fascism” could be regarded as anything other than anti-Semitic, it’s actually far less objectionable than Horowitz’s broader crusade to restrict free speech on campus.
But there is one disturbing issue left from George Washington University and the events there. According to yesterday’s statement by Sara Dogan, “a group of leftist students committed an elaborate hoax involving the posting of hundreds of fake hate flyers around campus with the intent of disrupting Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week events.” In reality, these weren’t “fake” hate flyers and there was no hoax; they were a parody of Horowitz’s group.
According to Horowitz when he spoke at GWU, "There is a lynch mob on this campus, and it's led by Peter Knapp” (Horowitz was trying to denounce the president of GWU, Steven Knapp, for not punishing the students who put up the posters).
In my view, calling for punishing students for putting up satirical posters is a clear-cut form of censorship.
Conservative groups called for the expulsion of 7 students involved in the posters. Horowitz said that he wanted to take legal action against the students because "They impersonated the GW students, the Young America's Foundation, and impersonated me. And (they) tried to implicate us in a hate crime.”
How could anyone who read the poster possibly take it seriously?
According to one editor at GWU’s newspaper, “It took several days for most to understand that the words and images were satirical.”
Several days? The poster (viewable here) declared, "Hate Muslims? So do we!!!" The poster showed an Arab man, declaring that “your typical Muslim” has "lasers in eyes," "venom from mouth," and "peg-leg for smuggling children and heroin."
The poster clearly says, “Brought to you by Students for Conservativo-Fascism Awareness” and even a “PS” that used the word “seriously.” There was no impersonation. (Also, there was no hate crime.) You would have to be a complete idiot to spend ten seconds reading this poster and think that it was anything but a left-wing satire.
The GW Hatchet’s initial story was entitled "Anti-Muslim posters cause stir, administrative response." University President Steven Knapp issued an e-mail statement to the GW community: "There is no place for expressions of hatred on our campus. We do not condone, and we will not tolerate, the dissemination of fliers or other documents that vilify any religious, ethnic, or racial group." The poster is a perfect example of why colleges should tolerate hate speech, because a poster mocking hatred was censored in the name of stopping hate speech. And the quick condemnation of the posters led to the mistaken impression that they were actual statements of hatred. The Pakistan Daily Times wrote that the posters were "another sign of the general feeling against growing Islamist radicalism” and IslamOnline wrote that the posters represent "an anti-Islam campaign that includes hate posters and a series of activities to rally students against the alleged threat Islam poses to the U.S. and the world."
A GW Hatchet staff editorial contended, “the fact remains that the content is offensive - regardless of the rationale behind it.” That’s sort of like saying that Spike Lee’s movie “Bamboozled” is offensive content that should be banned, when in reality it’s a social commentary on offensiveness.
The GW Hatchet reported that the administration “punished students involved in a controversial poster campaign with disciplinary probation and a $25 fine each.”
Actually, I have a serious problem even with this punishment, which fell far short of the expulsion demanded by conservatives. Probation is actually a serious punishment, because it enhances the penalty for any future violation. The notion of “illegal postering” is questionable at best. I don’t believe that GWU should have torn down these posters (a form of censorship). And if GWU does have the power to ban these posters, they certainly shouldn’t have the power to punish people for “illicit” posters. Genuine misrepresentation might be an issue, but that never happened with these posters (and the students quickly took responsibility for their posters after illiterates somehow thought it was a flyer from conservative groups)
The posters were clearly parody (and actually a very funny parody), and the fact that they were provocative shouldn’t excuse the GWU administration’s censorship of them. Whether you’re mocking liberals or conservatives, you should be entitled to free speech on campus.