Shoebat Speech: Victory for Free Expression
But it happened last night at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Walid Shoebat had his say before an overflow audience of 750 at the UWM Union.
The whole thing was in question for a while. When the Conservative Union at UWM first proposed bringing in Shoebat, the UWM administration, by its body language, didn’t seem too happy about the prospect, and threw up some procedural roadblocks.
Under pressure, especially from conservative talk radio, the UWM administration began to see things differently, and approved the speech, but with a draconian $1,700 addition charge for security added to the regular room fee.
Eventually, that charge was dropped.
Muslim students tried to get the speech cancelled, and failed.
Shoebat a Hero?
Our elation over the victory for free speech doesn’t require us to like Shoebat. It happens we do like Shoebat, but that’s irrelevant.
The majority of the crowd, heavily laced with Jews and listeners of conservative talk radio received him very favorably.
Some of our students who attended thought him excessively harsh, however. One just told us that Shoebat reminded him of Hitler.
That is the point of free speech. You get to listen. You get to make up your mind.
A large number of Muslim students were present, and they asked hostile questions of Shoebat. Fair enough.
There was some inappropriate heckling at times, some very uncivil questions, and even one threat of violence -- which was not to be taken seriously.
But Shoebat got to speak his peace.
Likewise, a small group of calling themselves “Jews Against Islamophobia” protested. They were cordoned off in the hall outside the event, but in plain sight (and indeed, within a yard or two) of the crowd as it filed past slowly.
And Muslim students organized their own counter-forum to rebut Shoebat’s assertions.
How Did the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Look?
It appeared that UWM had to be intimidated by a huge burst of publicity, mostly coming from Milwaukee talk radio, to do the right thing.
But a lot of university bureaucrats, when faced with an issue like this, simply hunker down and insist on shutting up speech that might cause controversy. This has chronically been the case at Marquette. So if we have only faint praise for UWM, that’s more than we have for a lot of institutions.
When the night arrived, UWM handled things with a high level of professionalism. Security was good, and dissenters had their right to speak too.
Issues like this create precedents. Each and ever case of censorship on a college campus reinforces the idea that any speaker that some aggrieved group dislikes can and should be banned.
But each time censorship fails, the norm of academic freedom is reinforced. In the future, UWM bureaucrats will know that it’s safer, simpler and much better public relations just to let the controversial speaker talk.
We wonder when Marquette will get this message.