Barring Shapiro prevents intellectual conversation


There has been much tension following ASA’s decision to partially fund the expenses needed to bring Ben Shapiro to campus. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with Shapiro. Many people don’t agree with Shapiro for a vast array of reasons. 

If one finds Shapiro’s rhetoric objectionable, it is usually predicated on the notion that his speech is wrong, misguided or inaccurate. 

The best way to deal with ideas that one considers wrong is not to shun them away, but rather to engage them in an intellectual manner so as to prove them wrong. This approach should be emphasized when this interaction happens in a campus setting, as universities are beacons of intellectual thought (or at least should be). 

The friction of ideas leads to conversation, which is the best way toward reaching common ground. Only then can we truly move toward tolerance. 

By attempting to bar Shapiro from campus, one will not be sending a message of acceptance but rather a message of intellectual authoritarianism—such that a certain political leaning reigns supreme over others on this campus and that dissenting opinions are frowned upon or  pushed aside. 

Besides the continued effort to disallow the speech of certain people, the persistent labeling of speakers and people who tend to be of a different persuasion is targeted at creating intellectual conformity. 

If calling someone an Islamophobe is aimed at putting Islam beyond the intellectual examination of its philosophy and doctrines, then it is not only aimed at limiting an individual’s speech, but also at policing that individual’s thought. 

With an ever-growing number of labels manufactured every day, we should really understand that questioning the logical and factual validity of certain belief systems or practices does not necessarily imply malice.   

In the pursuit of creating a more accepting and tolerant campus, pretending that dissenting opinions do not exist is counterproductive to the goal of finding tolerance. If one aims to promote diversity and acceptance, one must not only be accepting of people of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities, but also people of different opinions. 

For a campus that promotes plurality in faith, background and culture, barring Ben Shapiro would show incongruent tendencies, as that olive branch of plurality would not be extended to the people who hold differing opinions. There is an ever-growing trend of confining plurality to diversity of color and/or religion, while plurality should represent diversity of opinion as well.  

Some of the issues Shapiro discusses are held close to heart by many, and this is often used as a justification for why Shapiro should not be allowed on this campus. How much emotional attachment one has to an idea has absolutely no causal relation with the validity, morality or factuality of that idea or practice. 

If we are to go down this rabbit hole of “because what you say offends something so near and dear to my heart, I will not let you speak,” many things are going to be beyond the reach of logical questioning. We do not have to look too far back in history to remember that even evil ideas were held near and dear in the hearts of many. Such dialogue might be uncomfortable, but it is necessary. 

The argument that someone’s comfort should come before somebody else’s freedom of thought or speech is very problematic. As comfort is a subjective entity. Where does one draw the line for what is acceptable speech and what isn’t? 

I urge everybody who has objections to Shapiro’s rhetoric to ask him questions when the time is right. There will be time for a Q&A session. 

Come prepared and challenge his ideas. Then we can have civil discourse and, perhaps, even find some common ground.    

Nathnael Berhanu is a sophomore political science and economics major from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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