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EDITORIAL – Free speech isn’t the monopoly of the righteous

Berkley riot. (CNN screengrab)

Berkeley riot. (CNN screengrab)

An ArmchairMayor.ca editorial by Mel Rothenburger.

FREE SPEECH can’t be just for some; it has to be for all.

That includes both left and right — conservatives, liberals, radicals, activists — everybody.

The left forgot it last week on the University of California Berkeley campus when they rioted to stop an appearance by a right-wing commentator by the name of Milo Yiannopoulos. He’s an editor with the controversial ultra-right website Breitbart, which espouses all kinds of objectionable views. He was supposed to speak to a group of college Republicans but his appearance was cancelled due to the violence.

Like so many protests, this one began peacefully but soon got out of hand with protesters tearing down police barriers, setting fires and breaking windows.

Yiannopoulos proclaimed, “The days you could silence conservative and libertarian voices on campus and still expect to collect their tax money are coming to an end.”

An argument can be made, of course, that this fellow Yiannopoulos doesn’t deserve the protection of free speech because his brand of speech is all about hate. He calls progressive social justice “cancerous and toxic to free expression.” He desparages Muslims and minorities, calls feminists ”deeply physically unattractive

“In our view, Mr. Yiannopoulos is a troll and provocateur who uses odious behavior in part to ‘entertain,’ but also to deflect any serious engagement with ideas,” stated UCC Berkeley chancellor Nicholas Dirks before the riot in explaining why the university allowed Yiannopoulus on campus in the first place.

But, he added, “We are defending the right to free expression at an historic moment for our nation, when this right is once again of paramount importance. In this context, we cannot afford to undermine those rights, and feel a need to make a spirited defense of the principle of tolerance, even when it means we tolerate that which may appear to us as intolerant.”

The riot, of course, changed that for safety reasons. Yiannopoulos indeed holds odious views, and a protest rally would have been a good way to express disagreement with them. A riot was not.

mrothenburger@armchairmayor.ca.

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About Mel Rothenburger (4424 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

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