My college’s quad is huge. It’s one of those institutions that tries to hold true to the idea that students should eat, drink, go to classes, and live on the quad. As you might imagine, then, it caused some serious consternation when a student hung the Confederate flag from his window. I certainly wasn’t happy about it: to me the Confederacy stands for slavery and treason. To this student, though, it stood for Southern heritage. The school’s reaction was schizophrenic. On one hand, students were allowed to hang things from their windows. On the other hand, the school was concerned about how this made them look. When a few guys from the Black Student Union started to picket on the quad, the administration was alarmed. When one of the BSU students invited Al Sharpton to come to campus the college had heard enough: the flag had to go.
To his credit, the guy took down the flag without raising a ruckus. I’m sure he was annoyed, but he knew that—in this case—discretion may have been the better part of valor. To the school’s frustration, the controversy continued to play out in the campus newspaper. Al Sharpton decided to come to campus even though the flag was down. I remember talking in the computer lab with the lab director. He was a big, bluff, ancient, Bavarian, conservative Catholic whose family fled the Nazis. His family’s flight from Germany when he was eight was hard on him, especially as he was named Adolf. In any case, he and I agreed that the school’s actions were wrong. This was probably the only time we agreed on anything, but we both felt that the school had overstepped what was right in the name of “political correctness.” As we spoke another girl swept up to us and pronounced: “political correctness does not inhibit free speech, it enables it.” And just as quickly she swept out the door. Adolf leaned forward and smiled and said, “You know, if she really believed that, she would have stayed to argue the point.”
Without a doubt, I’ve seen people on both the left and the right try to muzzle people with political correctness. Since the flag incident I’ve been doubly sensitive about free speech. That, freedom of religion, and the equality of all men and women before the law, are the cornerstones of Western civilization. I’ve learned that people who try to muzzle others—especially under the aegis of political correctness—are not interested in upholding Western civilization. They may be liberal progressives like me, but they refuse to give the other side a voice. They prefer to dictate to people how they should live, worship, and speak. It’s been hard for me to accept, but when you allow the core rights of Western civilization to slip away—even in the name of the greater good—how is the result different from something like fascism or Sharia law? If I am willing to give someone so much power over my thoughts and actions then what will protect me from the burkha? What rights will I have?
This is why the effort to force the Guardian to fire Joshua Treviño bothers me so much. It’s not that I agree with what he has to say: it’s that I agree that he has every right to say it. The Guardian, by employing him, is only allowing its readers to hear a different viewpoint. They are offering diversity of thought. If you don’t like what he has to say then don’t ignore it, engage it.
To support Joshua Treviño please tweet @GuardianUS and let them know you stand with freedom of speech!