About one month ago, a woman by the name of Nonie Darwish was to speak at an event sponsored by both of the student organizations Tigers for Israel and Whig-Clio. Claiming she holds views particularly antagonistic towards Islamic fundamentalism, the leaders of the Muslim community and the cjl pressured both groups to drop their sponsorship, and both did on the night before she was to speak. Because the event would be canceled without student sponsorship, I decided to sponsor the event on the Tory’s behalf at the last minute. As this was an emotionally charged event, I feel it is important to explain in this letter the reasoning that went into my decision.
The charge against Nonie Darwish and her views was that they promoted hatred against Islam and were bigoted—something akin to a Neo-Nazi position on Judaism. Upon hearing this, I was immediately struck by the severity of the accusation. Calling someone’s views bigoted is a charge of the utmost seriousness; it is a call to banish an opinion from intellectual discourse entirely—on this campus and elsewhere. Thus, a stringent burden is placed on such accusations to prove their point thoroughly. Given the stakes, it would be terribly reckless on the part of the accuser to not honor this burden.
I decided that those who argued that Ms. Darwish’s viewpoints should not be a part of the discourse at Princeton had not sufficiently met this burden. Aaron Smargon’s article in this issue will explain exactly how derelict they were in their duty, so I will not belabor the reader with a redundant recount. However, it is clear that the claim that Nonie Darwish is bigoted was purely motivated by an offense taken at some of her conclusions without consideration of their underpinning arguments. This seems to me quite obviously wrongheaded, because bigotry, as I understand it, motivates certain conclusions—it cannot be proven in a conclusion itself. In point of fact, Ms. Darwish’s argument begins by explicitly stating that she does not aim her criticism at the Islamic faith as a whole, but rather at the “human rights violations in Muslim countries allowed under Sharia law.” By supposedly “finding” bigotry in her conclusions, those that had Nonie Darwish silenced simply missed what a five minute Google search would have found.
I was thus persuaded that in sponsoring the event we would be standing for a principle that was too important not to defend. Ms. Darwish’s views are in no way motivated by bias or hatred; she simply has come to certain contentious conclusions against a specific aspect of a religious faith. It is simply inexcusable to label her views as akin to Neo-Nazism on these grounds alone, let alone silence them.
The episode with Nonie Darwish provides a vivid demonstration of what a dangerous threat to free speech the reckless usage of such maledictions as “bigotry” poses. Even at Princeton, as Ms. Darwish’s plight clearly illustrates, the potential for reasoned debate is corrupted by its incautious application. We clearly have good cause to worry about its current usage against conservatives in other debates such as gay marriage. The longer such unfounded grievances are permitted, the more likely it will be that the same fate suffered by Ms. Darwish will befall conservative students.