Today the Stanford College Republicans will be hosting notorious documentarian, author, and political commentator Dinesh D’Souza at the CEMEX Auditorium. His ostensible speaking topic will be “Fighting Censorship and Debunking Fake History.” Of course, D’Souza is an eminent authority on the latter, seeing as how he has regularly peddled false historical narratives and conspiracy theories in the service of his own personal self-advancement.
I could spend time discussing all the reasons why D’Souza appears to be an ideological charlatan. I could talk about his apparent flirtation with the anti-Semitic wing of the American right. I could talk about his criminal conviction on charges of electioneering, something President Trump pardoned him for. I could discuss his vulgar and incendiary comments, or how he is essentially nothing but a more pedigreed Glenn Beck. I could spend time discussing how his invitation by the SCR is in bad faith, an exercise in stunt-making rather than a constructive offering of political and cultural commentary. But I won’t devote much more time to my turn at the D’Souza punching bag.
No, I want to take some time to address D’Souza’s detractors. I want to make a suggestion: don’t try to shut D’Souza down and risk giving him and the SCR renewed ammunition to attack the left as free-speech-hating ideologues. In spite of my strong objections to the circumstances of D’Souza’s visit to campus, my major disagreements with his political views and my own disapproval of his rhetoric and methodology, I, along with fellow Daily writer Michael Whittaker and the SCR, believe D’Souza must be allowed to speak.
Outside of the most egregious forms of hate speech (direct incitement of violence or advocacy of genocide, for example), it is necessary to allow all participants in the forum of ideas to be able to freely share their opinions. It is freedom of speech and expression that are bedrock principles of Western liberal democracy. To try and deny someone these freedoms is not merely “problematic,” but immoral. Repression of ideas necessitates repression of people; repression of people necessitates tyranny in some form or another. To impose a single viewpoint upon others and to screen out dissenting opinions whether they be extreme or not, is un-American, an authoritarian rejection of our First Amendment tradition and a rejection of the pluralism that has made this country great.
How can you call yourself liberal and progressive if you don’t tolerate dissenting or differing views? The left might want to remember that not too long ago, it was American progressives and liberals who were finding themselves persecuted and shut out on college campuses and in public for their opinions. It took the Free Speech Movement among others to motivate institutional changes to support and protect the free expression of opinions popular and unpopular. Seeking to shut down, silence or block an individual from (non-violently) speaking is a betrayal of the values the left’s predecessors have fought for.
I caution D’Souza’s detractors to let him speak for another reason beyond simple high-minded values: if you attempt to shut him down or interfere, you are playing exactly into the hands of D’Souza and his far-right sympathizers. By appearing to want to stifle his speech, you risk reinforcing his narrative that campus conservatives are persecuted, that the left is intolerant of dissent and that the true enemies of freedom are the left. By playing into the right-wing narrative that D’Souza has spun about college campuses, you risk losing control of the telling of events.
There are more effective ways to protest D’Souza. Go to one of the counter-protests or rallies that are sure to happen on campus if you want to express your opposition. Exercise your own right to freedom of speech as you like, without infringing on that of D’Souza and the SCR.
If D’Souza’s event is successfully shut down or significantly impeded, it can only be seen as an ideological victory for the SCR and D’Souza. They can successfully claim victim status. Their ideas, intellectually and morally fraught as they are, can be “martyred,” increasing their appeal to those fed up with the perception of campuses thought-policing ideas. D’Souza’s half-truths and problematic ideology will only spread further if people attempt to “shut them down.” His views can only be discredited if they are fully inspected.
To reiterate: to D’Souza’s detractors, I say let him speak. Trying to prevent him from doing so will only help his cause and risk contradicting the values our open society holds dear.
Contact Cole Griffiths at colegrif ‘at’ stanford.edu.