Attack on Salman Rushdie highlights ‘dangerous trend’ of free speech ‘hostility’ and violence in America

The attack on Salman Rushdie by an assailant who was not even alive when the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa against the author’s life is indicative of two dangerous political trends in America: “the growing hostility to free speech and the legitimation of violence as an acceptable form of political protest.”

According to Fox News contributor Judith Miller, “while antipathy to free speech and the endorsement of violence against political opponents may be a hallmark of secular autocracies and authoritarian theocracies like Iran, their growing resurgence among both conservatives and liberals in the U.S. is particularly ominous.”

 

Miller points to an increasing number of attempts to remove certain books from school curriculums and public libraries as evidence of her claim.

“While challenges of LGBTQ books by conservative groups account for a third of all recent attempted bans, left-wing activists and organizations have also lobbied to remove books, courses, and speakers from school curriculums and college campuses,” she writes.

And, she states, an increasing number of students believe it’s fine to use violence to silence someone.

“According to the most recent annual survey conducted by FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Expression, two-thirds of students said it was ‘acceptable’ to shout down speakers on campus, up four percentage points from 2020,” she reports. “Almost one fourth said it was acceptable to use violence to stop someone from speaking, up 5 percentage points in 2020.”

Cancel culture has claimed the reputations of liberal talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and author J.K. Rowling, Miller continues, and, “academia’s growing assaults on free speech have been particularly egregious.”

 

The very people who should be most vocal in their support of free speech — writers — “have often failed to defend it,” Miller states, citing a quote from free speech advocate Bari Weiss.

“We live in a culture in which many of the most celebrated people…believe that words are violence,” Weiss wrote on Substack. “In this, they have much in common with Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.”

“If words have become the equivalent of violence,” writes Miller, “violence, itself, has increasingly become legitimized as a form of protest.”

In the wake of Jan. 6, 2021, University of California, Davis, researchers revealed that “20.5% of the 8,620 people surveyed said that political violence was sometimes justifiable to achieve a specific objective,” Miller writes. “Over 42% agreed that ‘having a strong leader for America is more important than having a democracy.'”

And while Miller points to the convicted Capitol rioters and the alleged belief of some “that violence was justified by a ‘stolen’ election,” she stresses that the trend toward normalizing violence as an acceptable part of protesting is coming from both sides of the political aisle.

 

“Some left-wing activists and liberal commentators have also abandoned their commitment to peaceful protest. While the vast majority of protests in the wake of the heinous killing of George Floyd were peaceful, what people tend to remember is the rioting, looting, and $1-$2 billion in damages to government buildings and businesses, many minority-owned, in Minneapolis, Seattle, and New York – and the muted criticism of such violence,” she states.

“While possibly gratifying in the short term,” Miller adds, “such violence has often proved counterproductive in promoting positive change.”

Melissa Fine

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