Monday, March 30, 2009

Is it the Silence or the Speaking?

Jacob Shrybman gives his account of a presentation he attempted to give at Chicago's DePaul University detailing the experiences of Israelis who live in Sderot:
When I welcomed the custom of a question and answer period following my presentation, the very right of free speech that I welcomed to the audience of now over 100 people was thrown in my face and denied to me. First, an audience member verbally attacked me, expressed his support for the firing of rockets into Israel, and ended his anti-Semitic rhetoric filled rant with a question irrelevant to anything in my presentation. I then pointed out to the audience the same fact I want to point out in this article, that this person was not simply criticizing Israel but was clearly expressing his support for a terrorist organization.

Yet before I could finish answering the question, I was interrupted and silenced by the overwhelming Hamas supporters. Next, another audience member stood up and screamed out, calling me a “dirty whore” in Arabic and proceeding to grab his crotch and scream “Here’s your Qassam!” in Arabic.

Shrybman refers to this event as stifling his free speech. To me, that distracts from the issue. So much of the Israel/Palestine debate devolves into dueling accusations of "silencing" that I am now automatically leery of these sort of "free speech claims". Is aggressively hostile questioning during a Q&A session, after the presentation had concluding, a free speech violation (presumably in the moral, not legal, sense)? I dunno, maybe -- Shrybman seems to feel he was not actually allowed to answer the questions and that he was drowned out by a crowd that simply wanted to scream hate.

And that's the problem. As much as I care about open dialogue and norms of communication -- and I do, very much -- the content does matter. I'm less concerned that the conversation broke down here than I am by the fact that some members of the DePaul community engaged in anti-Semitic rants, vulgar threats, and at one point (according to Shrybman) "laughed at raw footage of kindergarten children running for shelter as a Qassam was fired at their city." In other words, the problem is that certain members of the DePaul community have become infected with a sickness -- a moral failure of imagination that lets them pronounce hate and cheer death and consider themselves righteous all the while.

1 comment:

Sikander Hayat said...

Israel is making difficult for its friends in the Muslim world to stay friends with it by constantly killing innocent people. Be it Turkey or Egypt, Israel’s actions have made it near impossible for the governments in the said countries to overtly support it.

By Sikander Hayat