A Stanford alumnus takes issue with his alma mater’s fascist suppression of dissenting views. Die Luft der Freiheit wird erstickt indeed.
“Stanford and the Wind of Freedom,” by Mateen Elass, November 15, 2017:
I am deeply embarrassed by the recent behavior of my alma mater, Stanford University, regarding its recent treatment of Robert Spencer, who spoke last night on campus concerning the topic of jihadi terrorism. In the weeks leading up to his lecture he was vilified numerous times in the Stanford Daily with libelous opinion pieces and slandered by a host of special interest student groups. Posters announcing his upcoming talk were torn down, sometimes at the behest of various campus housing authorities, although they were posted legally.
For those who don’t know, Robert Spencer is the Director of, author of 17 books (including two NYTimes bestsellers) all revolving around the theme of Muhammad, Islam and the Qur’an, and a sought-after speaker. He is eminently qualified to address these matters, and does so with regularity. He has appeared as an expert on more radio and TV news and talk shows than I can list, has been utilized by our Federal and state government counter-terrorism and law enforcement departments as a trainer, and has willingly debated many in the Muslim and Leftist worlds over the place of jihad and dhimmitude in the religion and history of Islam. His voluminous work and practical credentials speak for themselves.
In the midst of all this campus uproar fueled by a campaign of calumny and malice against Mr. Spencer, Stanford’s President and Provost issued a thoughtful, joint blogpost entitled, “Advancing Free Speech and Inclusion.” Quoting from the university’s Statement on Academic Freedom, they acknowledge:
“Stanford University’s central functions of teaching, learning, research and scholarship depend upon an atmosphere in which freedom of inquiry, thought, expression, publication and peaceable assembly are given the fullest protection. Expression of the widest range of viewpoints should be encouraged, free from institutional orthodoxy and from internal or external coercion.”
Nonetheless, they also recognize the need to provide social support for those who may feel excluded or demeaned by positions taken in public speeches. Further, they outline their understanding of appropriate ways that opposition may be freely expressed. All this is very reasonable: one may attend the event and engage the speaker in the Q&A period (which Robert Spencer repeatedly declared his hope that they would); one may voice dissent by staying away; one may publicly criticize in advance the decision to invite the speaker; one may protest the speech without disrupting it (e.g., hold a rally outside the venue). What one may not do is disrupt the event and prevent the speaker from being heard.
What happened last night met the letter but not the spirit of this guidance. Prior to Mr. Spencer’s arrival on stage, the hall was packed, with a large overflow crowd outside that couldn’t get in. In an act of apparent collusion with the Stanford authorities, soon after Mr. Spencer began his presentation, the vast majority of the crowd (all students) got up and began to file out in silent protest (this was their right, although rude and unconducive to the spirit of learning).
Now there was an almost empty hall, but with a large crowd outside ready and able to fill the empty seats. However, Stanford Security announced that according to their protocol they could not let anyone else into the event. How strange! And how strange that of all the people who wished to come to the event, the vast majority who got seats were those who planned to vacate them after the event started, thereby preventing others from the opportunity to engage with Mr. Spencer’s presentation. On top of that, the University administration disallowed any live streaming of the event, most likely as a way to preclude any bad press from potential student disruptions. This all seems like a neatly orchestrated plan to adhere to the letter of the law while trashing its spirit.
Like all universities, Stanford prides itself on being “…devoted to the discovery and transmission of knowledge,” in the words of its President and Provost. In fact, the motto on Stanford’s seal is Die Luft der Freiheit weht, German for “The wind of freedom blows.” I’m ashamed that my alma mater refused to live up to this motto last night, deciding instead to sabotage freedom of debate by surreptitious censorship that crowned a preceding week of misleading propaganda against Mr. Spencer. Hardly the spirit of freedom of inquiry.
It seems the Stanford motto needs to be rewritten. I propose: Die Luft der Freiheit wird erstickt (“The wind of freedom is stifled”). Catchy, don’t you think? At least it’s more accurate.