On October 1, 2007, several news shows in eastern North Carolina ran a story about a remarkable ceremony that was held in Fayetteville. It was a memorial for an army wife from Fort Bragg who was murdered by her husband.
The case itself was old news – 33 years old, from 1974. But only in 2007 was a marker to be placed on the victim’s grave, by her daughter.
The victim was Beryl Mitchell, killed by her Army Green Beret husband on December 1, 1974: stabbed, strangled, and dumped nude in a wooded area of Ft. Bragg. Mitchell was buried in the cemetery across from Fayetteville’s VA hospital, but without a marker. Her husband was convicted of murder and spent several years in an Army prison. Continue reading A Marker for her Mother: A Survivor’s Journey→
The Northwest Gay Expulsion Impasse: Is A Break In Sight?
At its September business meeting, West Hills Friends (WHF) in Portland Oregon considered a statement accepting its expulsion from Northwest Yearly Meeting (NWYM) for having become a LGBT-welcoming congregation. If approved, the statement would be issued jointly with NWYM.
The decision to expel West Hills was made public by Northwest YM’s elders on July 24, 2015, at the conclusion of the YM’s annual sessions. (More details here.)
However, like a death sentence, pronouncing the expulsion did not
Free Speech, Islamophobia & The Murder of Innocents
About a week ago, the struggle over free speech landed in my email inbox.
I’m mindful of, and disturbed by the steady stream of articles I see decrying the decline of free speech on and around U.S. universities. Many of these come from rightwing pundits; but others come from worried but otherwise progressive observers.
I’ve held back from joining the fray, mainly because it’s almost twenty years since I worked on a college campus, and it’s way too easy to succumb to hand-wringing fads and facile generalizations about “kids these days”; to moan about how academia is abandoning rational discourse, and its millennial occupants are all going to hell in a handbasket woven from organic fair trade dried kale.
Perhaps it’s so; but how would I know that? I live near some large campuses, but don’t hang out there.
Then a week or so ago, an advocacy group I’m part of was asked to sign on to a letter. The missive, written by Manzoor Cheema, for the Movement to End Racism and Islamophobia, called for a lecture series in Chapel Hill NC, to be shut down. The letter’s money quote was:
“we urge Extraordinary Ventures to say no to the voices of hatred and bigotry. We request Extraordinary Ventures to cancel Diana West’s upcoming speech and the future lecture series by ICON.”
At this point, for the record: “Extraordinary Ventures” is a local non-profit that mainly works with youth and adults who have autism; as part of their fundraising, they rent out a sizable community room.
ICON stands for “Issues Confronting Our Nation,” which is a very conservative association that sponsors a lecture series, which uses the Extraordinary Ventures room for the talks. ICON’s lineup of speakers is solidly, some would say rabidly rightwing: climate change deniers, dead-ender opponents of the Iran nuclear agreement, fans of Trumpian curbs on immigration — and denouncers of allegedly massive Islamic infiltration and terrorist-oriented subversion of American society, pushing for sharia and the whole nine yards.
The protest letter’s particular target was a lecture by Diana West, an author whose major work is American Betrayal, which according to reviewers (I haven’t read it) argues for a drastic reinterpretation of American diplomatic history since World War Two. West asserts that FDR, Eisenhower and other top officials over several decades were essentially tools of the Soviet Union.
I remember this argument, made by the ultra-right John Birch Society in its heyday. Numerous scholars, including some quite conservative, consider it, and West’s book, rubbish. Nevertheless, West uses this theme to insist that the U.S. government is once again being taken over by subversive, deadly aliens, in this case radical Muslims and their repressive, terrorist vanguard.
It was this “Commies then, Muslims now” trope that the letter I was sent wanted to shut down — along with the entire lecture series it was part of.
The basis for the letter’s demand was straightforward:
“Hate speech has real life consequences for marginalized communities. Muslims and immigrants in general have been demonized and dehumanized by the forces of hate. Laws and policies have have been introduced against them, including in North Carolina, as a result of concerted efforts by these forces. Diana West has contributed to the hysteria against Sharia law, which has led to anti-Sharia movement throughout the country, including in North Carolina. NC General Assembly members passed anti-Sharia law that was signed into law by Governor McCrory in 2013. There is an increased level of attacks against Muslims as a result of hate speech and institutional Islamophobia. Three Muslim students were murdered in execution style in Chapel Hill in early 2015, an incident that many believe was an anti-Muslim hate crime.”
Here I note one point of agreement: “hateful speech” does contribute to social hostility, and increases the odds of violence; that’s why it’s called “hate speech.”
But I part ways with the author as to the remedy, or at least the response. And here my view is that of a pretty old-fashioned First Amendment, ACLU-supporting liberal.
(The ACLU sets out their view in “Hate Speech on Campus”; and while the ICON lecture was not a campus event, it was held in the heart of Chapel Hill, the quintessential college town community in our region, and the letter was penned by a university researcher. By “the heart” I mean, of course, the venue’s location hard by the local Whole Foods store.)
ACLU: “Many universities, under pressure to respond to the concerns of those who are the objects of hate, have adopted codes or policies prohibiting speech that offends any group based on race, gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.
That’s the wrong response, well-meaning or not. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects speech no matter how offensive its content. Speech codes adopted by government-financed state colleges and universities amount to government censorship, in violation of the Constitution. And the ACLU believes that all campuses should adhere to First Amendment principles because academic freedom is a bedrock of education in a free society.
How much we value the right of free speech is put to its severest test when the speaker is someone we disagree with most. Speech that deeply offends our morality or is hostile to our way of life warrants the same constitutional protection as other speech because the right of free speech is indivisible: When one of us is denied this right, all of us are denied. . . .”
I couldn’t have said it better, though I have one point to add: if we let self-appointed groups insist that certain words or subjects be banned from public spaces as “offensive,” we are encouraging the forces of totalitarianism in our society, and dabbling with a remedy that’s worse than the disease. I was raised in such a repressive religious atmosphere, and know whereof I speak. Furthermore, what’s right on campus should be right off-campus as well.
Yet are there no limits at all to free speech? Yes there are. Here I agree with the Supreme Court, in a 1969 decision that declared
“the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”
In the case of Diane West’s lecture, the difference would be between her arguing that infiltration by Islamic radicals will ruin the country, and a call to her hearers to gather weapons, attack the nearest Muslims, and summarily execute them as happened in the horrible, haunting triple murder the previous winter. In the latter case, I’d call 911 right away for serious help. [But I’ve seen no indication that West is ready to jeopardize her presumably lucrative career as a propagandist writer and lecturer by crossing that line.]
So what to do? Here I again defer to the ACLU:
“Where racist, sexist and homophobic speech is concerned, the ACLU believes that more speech — not less — is the best revenge.”
So vigorous peaceful protest is fine, as would be a counter-presentation. And I note that ICON itself says on its website that:
“[The] ICON Lecture Series is committed to free speech, diversity of thought and improving the balance and quality of the Triangle’s political conversation. . . . We welcome people of all political points of view at our events and invite them to participate enthusiastically in our question-and-answer sessions.”
I’d be willing to take them at their word and send some well-prepared, articulate dissenters into the program, to dismantle a racist/Islamophobic presentation with forcefully-argued facts and values.
So that’s what I said to the others in my group: I’d support a vigorous peaceful protest, but not a call to shut down the lecture and the series, unless either called for imminent violence.
Others said much the same thing, and we did not sign on to the letter.
In the event, West’s lecture was held as scheduled. A group of protesters gathered outside the building “with signs and chants” (the sponsor reported 15). There were no reports of arrests or violence, and life here in North Carolina goes on.
So does my encounter with this call to shut down free speech show that the campus and its environs are fatally infected with the virus of speech repression?
I can’t jump from one case as far as that conclusion. But the risk certainly seems to be there. Yet at the same time, the letter’s author is quite right that anti-Islamic agitation can have violent and even fatal consequences, as citizens of our community know to our sorrow. So the struggle against such agitation is real and ongoing; and debates over ways to engage it will likely be ongoing as well.
If you find this post of value, please pass it on.
Our Life is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey. Marcelle Martin. San Francisco: Inner Light Books, 238 pages. Paperback, $17.50.
Reviewed by Chuck Fager
It’s my fate to spend a fair amount of time on the larger Quaker-oriented Facebook groups. That’s often a challenging, and sometimes dispiriting experience, especially when talk turns to “what Friends believe,” and how that is evidenced in actual Quaker history.
It’s a chore because the level of ignorance and misinformation about Quakerism seems bottomless. Responding to it often feels like bailing out a canoe with a big hole in the bottom, through which a continuing steam of errors, rumor, legends and downwright fiction steadily gushes.
For instance, a few days ago, there once again popped up the name of Richard Nixon, the second Quaker U. S. president. But no sooner than he appeared, there followed a number of firm denials that he was, or ever had been, a Friend. Even though Nixon’s lifelong membership in East Whittier, California Friends Church is well-attested in several solid historical sources, both in books and online.
Stone raises the curtain on a well-established phenomenon particularly at the liberal end of this constituency. Yet it’s one that is hardly ever remarked on, except in passing: the pervasive influence of pop psychology and the morphing of “spirituality” (also previously known as “religion”) into a kind of therapy equivalent.
The New York Times Magazine has a very striking & powerful profile of Larycia Hawkins, the former tenured professor at evangelical Wheaton College in Illinois. She was abruptly fired last year after publicly wearing a hijab “in solidarity” with Muslims facing Islamophobia.
For the record, she wasn’t converting to Islam, but this gesture of “solidarity,” especially by an articulate black woman intellectual was way too much for both Wheaton’s white male rulers & its mostly white constituency.
For enthusiastic new Friends, it’s something of a sobering rite of passage to learn that many of the great names among the founders are not reliable witnesses in their own cause. However, careful historians have long since proven this to be the case. One of them was H. Larry Ingle.
Larry is now retired from a long career teaching history, mainly at the University of Tennessee – Chattanooga. Sometime before 1994, he went to London, and padded down the stone steps of the large Library at Friends House (an imposing structure sometimes dubbed the Quaker Vatican), into the half-lit depths where the earliest Quaker manuscripts and publications were stored. Then he began looking at many of the pamphlets and broadsides from the first generation of Friends. And soon he had made a remarkable discovery. Continue reading Was George Fox A Liar? (Alas, The Answer Is Yes.)→
North Carolina’s odious “Bathroom Bill,” HB2 has been pushed out of the spotlight for the moment, while the crazy 2016 election plays itself out.
I can understand that. But HB2 will be back, and it’s still on my mind. In particular, I’ve been trying to figure out what’s at the root of the support for it. I have some idea of the politics, and the major personalities; but what’s the nub, the “bottom line”?