by Max Brantley
The University of Arkansas believes in the free exchange of ideas and in a balanced presentation of viewpoints and does not approve of a program director’s recent decision to cancel a presentation via Skype by Dr. Phyllis Chesler.Here's a Chesler Tweet on April 27.
The decision to disinvite a participant for his or her views is not reflective of the values and practices of our institution. The decision, made without informing leadership, has resulted in the director’s responsibilities for administrative and operational control being suspended pending an internal review focused on the circumstances that led to this decision.
We believe that the cancellation was an isolated incident and not indicative of a broader approach toward one ideological viewpoint. However, in an abundance of caution, we are actively working to reinforce an inclusive approach to special events with the goal of maintaining an environment where a diversity of ideas is welcomed.
"We did the right thing. We stand by our email. There is a difference between free speech and giving a platform. You're not obligated to give a platform to something you feel would be irresponsible to give a platform to."She said they wanted to have King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies issue a statement distancing itself from the speaker's stereotypes about Islam and Muslims, and asked to hand out an "Islamophobia is Racism" syllabus to be handed out to attendees.
"I think that if it had been an anti-Semitic speaker or a speaker who was known for Anti-black stereotypes, there would be no question in the minds of the relevant programs and departments that they would not want their money sponsoring such a speaker. I think even liberals, though, falter when it comes to anti-Muslim hate, because somewhere in the back of their heads, they're going, 'well, it's kinda true. They're pretty terroristic and violent and violent toward women.' They would not falter in understanding the limitations of free speech and the promotion of anti-Semitic or anti-black racist discourse, there is a faltering when it comes to anti-Muslim discourse."
"It seems like a no-brainer, the idea of equal rights for everyone and not promoting hate of any group. But in every era, there's an exception that's rationalized."
"We were modeling for our students refusing complacency about promoting a speaker that would be utilizing broad smears and sensationalism, and stereotypes, rather than promoting serious scholarship. The person in question has no credentials as a Middle East Studies scholar or an Islamic Studies scholar. Credentials in other fields, but not that. What we're here to promote is scholarly discourse."
"The other thing is that we didn't actually ask for her to be canceled. What I asked for initially before we had the collective letter, was that a response speaker be asked to join. We were told it's too late to change the logistics and that's going to be too difficult and so on. What we had also asked for was the withdrawal of [UA's King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies] money for that, where the law school, which were the ones who invited her, would be responsible for footing the bill."
"What message would we be sending to students if we were promoting the opposite of responsible scholarship?" "[Cancelling the talk] was not what we had asked for. That initiative came from elsewhere."
Yes, the director made the decision to cancel the Skype presentation. He did not consult with campus leadership before making his decision. A few faculty members in the King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies (MEST) communicated their concerns to the director in a letter before he made his decision. In the letter, the faculty members did not specifically ask for Dr. Chesler’s Skype presention to be canceled but instead asked that the center not be involved in sponsoring a symposium with this speaker included, that another presenter with differing views should be added, and that a statement be issued and materials made available for symposium attendees.UPDATE: I got a lengthy note late in the day from Ted Swedenborg, making some of the same points Kahf had made, but also explaining why there was resistance to Chesler as a speaker sponsored by the Center. His explanation of their view of her credentials and work in the field is, at a minimum, informative.
The director announced his decision to the faculty and staff of MEST on April 9 stating that her past work “does not align with the mission and vision” of the center. At this time, we don’t believe there was an official notice mailed to Dr. Chesler. We are aware of an email sent by Dr. Chesler to the director on April 19, thanking him for his “personal apology on the phone.”