Last night I spoke at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and I am still here to tell the tale. I didn’t actually expect to shuffle off this mortal coil last night, but after all the security arrangements that the university had in place for my talk, I did come away feeling a bit like a presidential candidate, or…Salman Rushdie: I was escorted through corridors and secret passageways by men with earpieces who were communicating with other personnel elsewhere; I had a meeting before my talk with the very courteous, knowledgeable and efficient security chief for the university, who explained to me the measures they had in place, including placing a large number of security personnel at various points all over the hall, and having everyone who entered the venue pass through a metal detector.
Everyone who entered also had to have a ticket. On one side the ticket said, “Robert Spencer Lecture, October 16, 2008, 7:30PM. Tickets do not guarantee entry. All patrons must pass thru security screening for entry.” On the other side were printed “Audience Behavior Guidelines.” These included: “Audience Members Must Remain Seated…No Sticks or Standards…Noise levels that impede the program’s progress or the audience’s ability to hear shall not be permitted….Objects may not be thrown: The throwing of any objects will not be tolerated” and “Force or Violence Notification: Behavior that infringes on the safety of others or endangers university property shall not be permitted.
The Rushdiean security precautions and these warnings were all necessary because of the fascist tactics of trying to intimidate and shout down opponents that students and others at UWM have employed in the past against speakers such as David Horowitz. It also became necessary after the MSA published a highly defamatory advertisement about me in the student paper last week — apparently free of charge (our ad is headed “Paid Advertisement,” while the MSA’s hit piece, which is the same size as our ad, is headed “Advertisement.”) It is also noteworthy that the paper required evidence for the truth of every assertion we made in our ad, or they would not print it — we happily complied, but clearly the MSA was not asked for any evidence for their wild assertions, or their ad never would have appeared.
In any case, last night the university officials I met with appeared determined not to witness a reprise of the fascist thuggery that the Left and the apologists for Islamic terror employed before, and I commend them for that. The student group was also well organized and determined in the face of enormous opposition, and I am in awe of these students who live day in and day out in these hostile environments and maintain their hope and determination to fight for what is right.
And ultimately the clear signs that fascist intimidation was not going to succeed this time paid off: the crowd stayed quiet all through my talk, I didn’t even see any protest signs, and even the question period was generally a fruitful discussion rather than a series of hostile and arrogant counter-lectures (although there were a few attempts at those). This was rather surprising given the fact that some MSA members had told students who organized the event that they were planning to disrupt it. Maybe they were bluffing, of course, but I also suspect that one reason why audiences at my talks this week and in the past have several times been quieter and more courteous than anyone expected them to be is that I am not the hate-filled “Islamophobe” or fire-breathing idiot that the MSA and other Brotherhood-linked Islamic groups have made me out to be in their propaganda. Leftist and Muslim students believe the lies their leadership feeds them and come expecting one sort of person, and a very different kind of person ends up giving the talk. This is not to say that my talks have never been disrupted or never will be again; but I have seen articles before along the lines of Wisconsin-Madison student Ammar Al Marzouqi’s “Spencer: Better than I anticipated,” in which he says,
I went with a feeling of apprehension and expectations of a repetition of last year’s charade during David Horowitz’s lecture. And I have to admit I was wrong. Spencer was very respectful in his speech, he laid out his case without attacking anyone, and he even thanked the audience for not interrupting his speech. I personally had a brief exchange with him during the Q-and-A session which was very calm and respectful. And for that, I thank him.
Of course, Ammar Al Marzouqi goes on to detail all the ways in which he thinks I’m wrong, but that is what makes his generous words above all the more valuable: with civil discourse so rapidly eroding in the U.S., and with threats to the freedom of speech being energetically pursued by powerful entities around the world, and with libelous propaganda heaped upon me on a more or less daily basis by the Islamic groups in the U.S., this was refreshing — as was the civility of the audience at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee last night.
Can we then see, in all the precautions that were taken last night, that a strong stand against the thugs and enemies of free speech will stop them in their tracks? I think there’s a lot to be said for that point of view. The only difficulty is finding people in sufficient numbers who are willing to make a strong stand.