Opening Remarks to Nonnie Darwish

by Aaron Smargon

I want to thank the American Whig-Cliosophic Society for co-sponsoring this event and for allowing us to hold it in the beautiful Whig Hall Senate Chamber. I want to thank CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, for co-sponsoring as well.

My fellow Princetonians, four months ago, today’s speaker, Nonie Darwish, was turned away from campus at the last moment, not by the University, but by student leaders like Charlie and me. Many of you know the back-story, but for those of you who do not, The Tory investigated it quite extensively in last December’s issue, which is available on our website. Unequivocally, mistakes were made last November, but this time we are doing things right.

The principal reason for our re-invitation of Darwish is simple: We are a journal of conservative and moderate thought committed to the diverse and uninhibited exchange of ideas. For whenever and wherever free speech is limited, there can be no free thought. And so I ask each of you here today to consider not only what Darwish has to say, but also the very fact that she is allowed to say it.

Members of the Tory, including myself, share Muslim views on many social issues. And we know what it’s like to be in the minority, to be marginalized by a campus that doesn’t seem to share our values. Everyday of the school year, we know what it’s like to feel how you must feel today. But some of us also come from worlds apart. In America, no ideology is beyond questioning. And in America, people of all faiths and creeds are welcome to practice publicly their religions, to protest peacefully anything without fear of retribution. And so we embrace your respectful participation today, within the guidelines of Rights, Rules, Responsibilities.

Although we honor your voice, we do not necessarily approve of your words. I have no problem with your questioning Nonie Darwish’s scholarly authority, but the comparison of her to a Neo-Nazi last November was both intellectually dishonest and personally offensive to me, as the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, as someone who has grown up listening to stories of how hateful human beings can be to each other. Arab Society of Princeton, Muslim Student Association, the Tory challenges your leaders to write for us on why Darwish’s criticisms of Islam, even her most controversial statements, make you fear for your or your loved ones’ lives.

In my view, this moral equivalence is completely unfounded; it is a distortion of the meaning of hate speech, meant to dismiss all criticisms, whether legitimate or not, of a certain ideology.  And it deeply concerns me that the leadership of the Center for Jewish Life and Tigers for Israel would take such apologetic stances on this issue, that the burden of campus refutation would ultimately fall on a non-religious, non-political advocacy group such as the Tory. But again, we invite you to try to prove us wrong by taking part in a point-counterpoint for our next issue. Contact our Editor-in-Chief David Pederson if you’d like to get involved. I look forward to a spirited debate among conservatives about the limits of free speech.

While we do sympathize with Nonie Darwish, The Princeton Tory does not endorse her views. Yet regardless of our publication’s position, we feel that her right to speak and her personal story are more valuable than the desire not to offend someone.

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