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Posted in: Academic Freedom, Free Speech

Published on May 16, 2017 by Harold Goldmeier

Written for Times of Israel Blog

Stand up for free speech


Professor Phyllis Chesler stands among a growing contingent of pro-Israel advocates disinvited to speak at schools of higher education, because she is a self-described “radical feminist” and “liberation psychologist.” I know of her as a seasoned activist, organizer, intellectual, committed Jew and Zionist. I greatly admire Prof. Chesler frequently sharing her writings with my international university students taking my Middle East Politics classes.

Another blow came after the invitation was revoked. Chesler’s appeal to colleagues was met with the sounds of silence. Good people did nothing. Her experience exemplifies the cimmerion meme of intolerance sweeping across university campuses. Here’s what Prof. Chesler has to say:

“I was dis-invited by the King Fahd Center at the U of Arkansas School of Law, I wrote to a number of dissident and feminist colleagues: Muslims, ex-Muslims, Jews, and Christians. They were all people whose work I had personally and publicly covered, whose back I had when they were under siege, and whom I had interviewed at their request.”

A mere “3 of these 10 Muslim and ex-Muslim dissidents and feminists (30%) responded supportively.” One of the three wrote, “To accuse Professor Phyllis Chesler of being an Islamophobe is repugnant and an argument designed to silence anyone who highlights abuses of human rights, especially the barbaric dishonor killings everywhere in the world.”

I want to let Prof. Chesler know I wrote to the University Chancellor, Joseph E. Steinmetz, and received his heartwarming response.

Dear Chancellor:

It is disgraceful that your university cow tows to hate letting faculty — no, encouraging them to destroy freedom of speech and academic freedom — by disinviting Phyllis Chesler to speak. One of my colleagues points out, she is “one of the few scholars and feminists to tackle the problem of honor-killings/shame murders in the Muslim world (and elsewhere, e.g., Hindus in India, Sikhs to a much lesser extent everywhere), (and likely the only expert who) got disinvited from a conference on the subject of honor-killings.

An email filled with oppositional perspective to Western values endorsing by default the anti-human rights positions of the Saud monarchy, was written by three professors from the King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies at University of Arkansas: Joel Gordon (History, author of email), Ted Swedenburg (Anthropology), and Mohja Kahf (Comparative Literature), addressed Thomas Paradise, the Head of the King Fahd Center.

Perhaps the despotic monarchy and extremist religious interpretations of Islam are blinding the UoA staff taping their eyes shut and clouding their thinking by the smell, taste, and enticements of all that donated money? What a sad day for academics.

Dr. Harold Goldmeier

Here is the Chancellor’s full response. I want to point out that his administration already took meaningful action actually punishing someone on staff for denying Prof. Chesler the right to speak. He suggests more cleanups to come to protect free speech on his campus. This is in stark contrast to the hands-off approach of others when speakers have been denied opportunities and threatened with violence.

Dear Dr. Goldmeier:

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.

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.

Joseph E. Steinmetz

Chancellor

University of Arkansas

Fayetteville, AR 72701

So, Prof. Chesler, take pride and some solace knowing others support you.


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