'Hate Speech': the Left’s Term for 'Opposing Viewpoints'

Last week, a mass email went out at Yale University (my alma mater) protesting an upcoming visit from Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a political activist and staunch critic of Islam. The subject line reads, “Dear Friends: More Speech, Not Hate Speech.” The email reveals that by “hate speech,” the writers mean what the Left usually means when they use that term: “opinions we don’t agree with.”

Thirty-two student organizations signed the email under the leadership of Yale’s Muslim Student Association (MSA). That’s a revised number after the MSA was forced to reveal that its original list of 36 organizations was falsified. So, not a good start.

The signees announced that they feel “highly disrespected” by the mere fact of the invitation, because Ali stands accused of “hate speech” against Islam. Her very presence on campus, they argue, would be “marginalizing” and “uncomfortable” for Muslim students and their allies.

Let’s get a few things straight.

At five years old, Ms. Ali suffered protracted genital mutilation at the instruction of her grandmother, who “circumcised” the defenseless child according to the traditional practices of her Islamic clan. The MSA refers to these events as “unfortunate circumstances.” 

With unimaginable bravery and resourcefulness, Ali escaped a forced marriage in Africa and sought asylum in the Netherlands. She rose from desperation and obscurity to obtain a seat in the Dutch parliament. After painful introspection and extensive academic analysis, she began courageously speaking out against the institutionalized rape, mutilation, and murder of Muslim women and girls. She argued that those atrocities are supported by the principles of Islam.

In this, according to the MSA, she “overlooked the complexity of sociopolitical issues in Muslim-majority countries.” Presumably it was somewhere in between working as a translator for a Rotterdam refugee center and obtaining an advanced degree in political science that Ali allowed the finer points of intercultural analysis to slip her mind. Luckily, a clique of twenty-year-old undergraduates sheltered behind the walls of one of the world’s wealthiest institutions is here to remind her.

For the crime of daring to speak out against Islamic violence in the Netherlands, Ms. Ali was accused of “religious discrimination” and threatened with death by extremists. The intimidated Dutch authorities effectively abandoned her and chased her out of the country. They trumped up a technicality from her fourteen-year-old citizenship application, leading her to resign. Not to be deterred, Ali escaped to America to continue her heroic work. Perhaps she hoped that the U.S., at least, would protect her right to speak.

Except that Ms. Ali has been stonewalled once already this year from speaking at an American university. Last April, Brandeis cancelled its plans to award Ali an honorary degree after students petitioned in protest against her “hate speech.” A brazen move coming from the university that had already honored playwright Tony Kushner, who calls supporters of Israel “repulsive.”

And now the MSA and its co-signees have proudly joined in the quest to silence Ali. To them, her life’s work of defending helpless young women against an ideology of systematic oppression constitutes “hate speech,” and it cannot be discussed. They offer a number of laughably inaccurate reasons why.

Perhaps the most egregious is the supremely arrogant assessment that a woman with Ms. Ali’s extensive experience and acclaimed erudition “does not hold the credentials” to discuss the religion in which she was raised and abused, and which she has studied throughout her life.

There’s also the assertion that Ali commits a “radical inaccuracy” by daring to suggest that the West is engaged in a “clash of civilizations” with Islam. Never mind that prominent clerics like Farook al-Mohammedi often publicly plan the total subjugation of America — don’t call it a “clash of civilizations.” That’s hate speech.

Finally, under the guise of an interest in “advancing freedom of speech on campus,” the MSA recommends that someone whom they deem to have “representative scholarly qualifications” speak in Ms. Ali’s place. In other words: Yale is allowed an open conversation on the subject of Islam, as long as all participants and their viewpoints are vetted and pre-approved by the MSA.

These are flimsy attempts to legitimize a naked demand for censorship. There is one reason to make the untenable claim that Ms. Ali is anything close to hateful, and that is to shut her up. The MSA and its fellows are using the term “hate speech” to describe opinions with which they disagree and which they hope to frighten into silence. They are not the first to do so.

Liberal arts institutions — and the nations that establish them — are meant to be bastions of open discourse. They have no responsibility to protect their students from viewpoints that make them “uncomfortable.” But all over the supposedly tolerant West, radical leftists have used their distaste for Ali’s viewpoints to justify silencing her under the flexible and slanderous accusation of “hate speech.” They succeeded in the Netherlands. They succeeded at Brandeis. I’m proud to say they didn’t succeed at Yale — not this time, anyway. Ali did speak on Monday, to a packed house and a standing ovation. Free expression — the bedrock of academic inquiry — won the day. To that, I say, Boola Boola: this kind of victory is becoming all too rare.