When Democracy for America invited me to participate in a panel debate about the war in Iraq on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 at Macalester College, I wondered whether the staunchly liberal setting would result in some sort of donnybrook due to my defense of the war. I needn't have worried; Macalester proved itself polite, classy, and welcoming, if predictably unenthusiastic about my point of view. No one chased me from the dais, and no one interrupted our debate.
Unfortunately, Columbia University didn't demonstrate the same class and etiquette when Jim Gilchrist tried to speak about his Minutemen organization. Eliana Johnson reports in the New York Sun that a mob of students assaulted Gilchrist, shut down the event, and then cheered their version of free speech:
Students stormed the stage at Columbia University's Roone auditorium yesterday, knocking over chairs and tables and attacking Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minutemen, a group that patrols the border between America and Mexico.
Mr. Gilchrist and Marvin Stewart, another member of his group, were in the process of giving a speech at the invitation of the Columbia College Republicans. They were escorted off the stage unharmed and exited the auditorium by a back door.
Having wreaked havoc onstage, the students unrolled a banner that read, in both Arabic and English, "No one is ever illegal." As security guards closed the curtains and began escorting people from the auditorium, the students jumped from the stage, pumping their fists, chanting victoriously, "Si se pudo, si se pudo," Spanish for "Yes we could!"
"Yes they could" -- what? Prove that a violent mob could silence someone who wants nothing more than to speak their mind on politics? That they proved all too well, but then again, that point has hardly ever been in contention. The Nazis proved it in the period between the two World Wars, and the same spirit is alive at Columbia University.
And what was the purpose behind the use of Arabic in their banner? The Chicano Caucus, the university's African-American student association, and the International Socialists who all sponsored this event apparently want to argue that we should allow all Arabs into the country unfettered. They're making this argument just a few minutes from Ground Zero, which tells us quite a bit about the level of critical thinking taught at Columbia these days. They're the first group I know to argue on behalf of migrant Arabs. Perhaps they've got their own version of Aztlan.
It takes very little courage to form a mob, and even less brains, as we see from this example. Gilchrist may be all wet, or he may be a genius, but the students at Columbia didn't bother to find out either. The mobsters apparently have no ability to respond to Gilchrist with reasoned arguments and contrary data, and so they did what any bully does -- use violence to silence their intellectual superiors.
The epitome of Columbia's intellectual nadir came from Ryan Fukumori, a junior at the university who told Johnson that Gilchrist and others who spoke at the event "had no right to be able to speak here." Apparently Columbia doesn't teach students about the Constitution, especially the First Amendment, any more. The College Republicans have a right to invite anyone they want to speak at their events, and the speakers have the right to speak without being physically attacked. Bear in mind that this university houses the most prestigious school of journalism in the nation, which should indicate a particular interest in supporting free speech.
Macalester College should congratulate itself on its tolerance of opposing points of view. Columbia University should send letters home to every parent apologizing for its failure to teach their students critical thinking, civics, and any sense of class.
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