Freedom of Speech

Are Pro-Palestinian Students the Biggest Losers in the Campus Free Speech Wars?

George Washington University demanded student take down his Palestinian flag.

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In October, George Washington University police demanded student Ramie Abounaja remove the Palestinian flag hanging from his dormitory window, claiming that they had received multiple complaints from other students. Abounaja complied with the cop's demands but wondered why the police targeted his flag for removal—and not any of the other national flags hanging from dorm windows across campus.

GWU President Steven Knapp did eventually issue an apology to Abounaja. But the incident is still a reminder of how college students use police and administrators to censor people with whom they disagree. Left-leaning commentators like Glenn Greenwald and Matthew Yglesias contend that free speech advocates overlook the censorship of pro-Palestinian voices. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently fired Professor Steven Salaita for his anti-Israel tweets, and the University of California is attempting to suppress criticism of the state of Israel as part of an overly broad restriction of anti-Semitic hate speech.

But the censorship runs both ways. There are plenty of examples of pro-Palestinian students trying to shut down pro-Isreal speech on campus. In fact, students from all sorts of political groups try to censor their opponents—and university administrators are all-too-eager to comply.

So who's the biggest loser in the campus free speech wars? It's a question that's nearly impossible to answer and one that ultimately misses the point. If one person's free expression rights can be crushed underfoot by an overzealous administrator, campus security officer, or emotionally insecure student, then everyone on campus is in danger. And since "hateful" and "offensive" are subjective terms, we cannot protect the kinds of speech we like unless we also safeguard the kinds of speech we utterly despise.

About 2 minutes.

Hosted by Robby Soave. Produced by Amanda Winkler. Camera by Winkler and Todd Krainin. Music by Twin Musicom.

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