March 16, 2007

Freedom of Expression

Matthew Sinclair has, in a friendly way, rebuked me for my recent post about Dr Kuntzel. Matthew beleives that rather than examine Dr Kuntzel's arguments I should have examined the incident involving him which was an incident where a University was coerced into withdrawing a speaker from delivering a paper.

My own reasoning on this was that I didn't know much about the case- I still don't. I don't know what motivated the university so can't comment on their policies. As to violent threats against people speaking in public, I take it as read that this blog opposes such threats and when they are made beleives that police investigations into incitement to violence and other crimes are neccessary. Do I beleive that the University if it was concerned about the safety of its staff and students had the right to cancel? Yes. Would I like the University to hand such evidence of threats to the safety of those people to the police? Yes. But that is all out of my ken- I don't know the nature of the threats, I don't know the people making them, I don't know the reasons why the University abandoned the talk and nor do I know whether the people giving the talk had prepared adequate security.

Rather what I can examine is the published works of Dr Kuntzel and what I found was sloppy thinking and incorrect analysis. I do worry that occasionally when incidents of this sort happen we make martyrs of those they happen to- just because I agree that people should be able to read pornography doesn't mean that I consider it literature. Similarly its important that Dr. Kuntzel's work not be treated as the work of a martyr.

Dr Kuntzel is able to publish on the internet and he has published his work. To treat it then as a kind of separate category- that we mustn't talk about his work even though its out there because of these threats is perversely to let the radicals govern the conversations that we can have. I thought and still think that the substantive points I could make about this controversy surrounded not the free speech issue- my own view is that Dr Kuntzel's arguments are wrong but they aren't inciting racial hatred or anything of the sort but I don't think that is a unique argument. Rather I thought what I could do was look at Dr. Kuntzel's work like I would look at the work of any other thinker upon this area- and I found myself in profound disagreement with Dr Kuntzel.

Matthew's post has made me think though that some of what I said might have been ill timed- it might have seemed like I beleived that Dr Kuntzel's paper is objectionable enough that it shouldn't see the light of day- I don't beleive that and I take Matthew's criticism. All the same though I do beleive that one way to stop those who want to stop us having conversations from succeeding is to have those conversations. I'm not sure that the radicals who see Dr Kuntzel as a man deserving violent threats would like the tenor of my post about him- of that I am proud and I think that is the way forwards. It also by the way demonstrates to them that there are other ways of disagreeing than hurling bricks!

Just to reiterate though, it is my view having read the draft of a similar paper delivered by Dr. Kuntzel at Yale that there was no ground for restricting his freedom to give that paper upon any grounds of offence he might have given. There might be public order grounds which is a different issue but there was no reason why in my view you could morally object to that paper being given and I agree with Matthew that freedom of speech is a key value and that we should stand up for it and I apologise to both Matthew and to anyone reading this who had Matthew's reaction. I should have been clearer. Equally though I still don't think Dr Kuntzel has done a very good job, but Matthew is right that doesn't effect the fact that he, once invited, should have been allowed to speak and that threats made against him were totally unjustified upon the evidence I have read.


Pappusrif said...

I have added a comment at your post “Dr. Kuntzel middle east”. Then I will not repeat it here.
For my part, you were very clear concerning the withdrawal of his conference. I think we support all the freedom of expression even if it does not please some. In my view, the fact is that the context is complicated. To give a speech on the anti-semitism in the current context of the Middle East requires precautions, safety for the students and the professors and for Kuntzel himself. It is obviously not like giving a speech on neuron’s death in Alzheimer’s disease, or on the mechanisms of the plate tectonics. I don’t agree with Kuntzel views by I wish he could deliver his speech, and that students could debate.

Gracchi said...

I agree with what you've said and you've expressed it more clearly than I did myself. Thanks Pappusrif.

edmund said...

fair post ( I must comment on the actual post further dwon the blog!) I do think it's impornta not to let "public order worries" (and yes precuations should be made) become a way in which free speech if not free publicaion is effective curtailled.

I thoroughly approve of the way Salman Rushdies is protecected by the police and can speak more than he could otherwise and protin peole in these circusmnces is one of the core duties ofgovernment. Ensuing their ability to speak if htey don't contradict the universities core is one of the core duties of universities.