… when he weighed in on the controversy revolving around the boycott-disinvestment-sanctions speakers at Brooklyn College:

“If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kinds of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.

Yet you don’t need crude totalitarian censorship to shut people down – or to chill their speech – on important political subjects. UD‘s blogpal, Tenured Radical, wrote a column praising Brooklyn College for holding the sort of discussion of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that needs to take place. She went on, however, to take issue with the tactic of academic boycott:

I … don’t think that there is any good historical evidence that silencing intellectual, academic and cultural workers on a comprehensive basis, and preventing any exchange of ideas between the Israel and the United States, will have any effect on Israeli politics whatsoever beyond isolating progressive intellectuals in Israel.

This perfectly reasonable objection to the strategy in this circumstance has drawn volumes of vicious abuse to TR , via her column’s comment thread, and in other places. For questioning the utility of the boycott, she has repeatedly been denounced as a liar, a racist, and a reactionary by some of the boycotters.

The sheer personal cruelty of the comments is striking; and TR, also reasonably, wonders (in an email to UD) whether participating in the boycott debate is worth it:

[R]ather than be subjected to that kind of treatment again, and risk my reputation further, [maybe] I would be wise to never go near this topic again or ask questions about features of BDS that affect how it functions in a university setting.

There are a number of ways, short of outright censorship, to censor people. You can come down on them like a pile of bricks, for instance, when they say something you don’t like.

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5 Responses to “Everyone applauded Mayor Bloomberg’s wonderful comment about North Korea…”

  1. Protest, Engage and Discuss: Brooklyn College, the Occupation and Academic Freedom - Tenured Radical - The Chronicle of Higher Education Says:

    [...]  Margaret Soltan reacts to questions of censorship and the views expressed in the comments section here. (2/12/2013) For others who share my reservations about BDS, or who have their own, see Katha [...]

  2. Alan Allport Says:

    Admittedly I’ve only skimmed most of the comments, but is “vicious abuse” quite right? Many of the objections to TR’s post – a post with which I personally sympathize – are certainly robust in expression. But TR is no shrinking violet, and is not above cheap shots of her own from time to time.

    What strikes me about that thread is that, on the whole, the least gratuitious comments tend to have been made by people using their real names – or at least names which can in theory be tested with some googlification. The reason I use my real name in most comment threads is precisely because it’s a reminder to me that I have to stand by what I say, for good or ill. That’s not a guarantee that I’ll never resort to the ugly or the petty, but it does dampen the temptation.

  3. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Alan: A number of the commenters basically call her a liar; many call her ignorant, and their language is pretty crude.

  4. Mr Punch Says:

    See also recent reaction to Mary Beard’s comments on immigration (to Britain).

  5. janet gool Says:

    Margaret -
    I haven’t read the blog being discussed, but I can explain why the reactions are so vicious. The boycott, disinvestment movement is the most recent reincarnation of antisemitism. The ugly language used goes hand-in-hand with that and sounds familiar to anyone who has ever studied or experienced antisemitism.
    Ir is very not politically correct to point this out.

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