Factual Statements=Unprotected Harassment!? A Terrifying Precedent at Tufts

By on May 11, 2007

Today, FIRE announced the decision by a disciplinary panel at Tufts to find the conservative student newspaper, The Primary Source, guilty of “harassment” for, among other things, publishing a satirical ad that listed less-than-flattering facts about Islam during Tufts’ Islamic Awareness Week. You can see the ad here, and Eugene Volokh has also published it with excellent commentary over at his blog, but, just to make sure people see the ad for themselves, I have reprinted the full text:

Islam

Arabic Translation: Submission

In the Spirit of Islamic Awareness Week, the SOURCE presents an itinerary to supplement the educational experience.

MONDAY: “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.” – The Koran, Sura 8:12  Author Salman Rushdie needed to go into hiding after Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeni declared a fatwa calling for his death for writing The Satanic Verses, which was declared “blasphemous against Islam.”

TUESDAY: Slavery was an integral part of Islamic culture. Since the 7th century, 14 million African slaves were sold to Muslims compared to 10 or 11 million sold to the entire Western Hemisphere. As recently as 1878, 25,000 slaves were sold annually in Mecca and Medina. (National Review 2002) The seven nations in the world that punish homosexuality with death all have fundamentalist Muslim governments.

WEDNESDAY: In Saudi Arabia, women make up 5% of the workforce, the smallest percentage of any nation worldwide. They are not allowed to operate a motor vehicle or go outside without proper covering of their body. (Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2001) Most historians agree that Muhammed’s second wife Aisha was 9 years old when their marriage was consummated.

THURSDAY: “Not equal are those believers who sit and receive no hurt, and those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah with their goods and their persons. Allah hath granted a grade higher to those who strive and fight with their goods and persons than to those who sit. Unto all Hath Allah promised good: But those who strive and fight Hath He distinguished above those who sit by a special reward.” – The Koran, Sura 4:95  The Islamist guerrillas in Iraq are not only killing American soldiers fighting for freedom. They are also responsible for the vast majority of civilian casualties.

FRIDAY: Ibn Al-Ghazzali, the famous Islamic theologian, said, “The most satisfying and final word on the matter is that marriage is form of slavery. The woman is man’s slave and her duty therefore is absolute obedience to the husband in all that he asks of her person.”

Mohamed Hadfi, 31, tore out his 23-year-old wife Samira Bari’s eyes in their apartment in the southern French city of Nimes in July 2003 following a heated argument about her refusal to have sex with him. (Herald Sun)

If you are a peaceful Muslim who can explain or justify this astonishingly intolerant and inhuman behavior, we’d really like to hear from you! Please send all letters to tuftsprimarysource@gmail.com.

So does this paint Islam in a nice light? No. Is it one-sided? Yes, but that was kind of the point. The students were responding to what they thought was a one-sided and overly rosy depiction of Islam during Islamic Awareness week. But is it unprotected harassment!? One certainly hopes not, or else “harassment” just became a truly lethal threat to free speech—an “exception” that completely swallows the rule.

This is perhaps the most troubling and far-reaching aspect of this case. The Primary Source published a satirical ad filled with factual assertions and because this angered people it was ruled to be unprotected harassment. If what the complaining students wanted to say was that the TPS facts were wrong, then—while this still would not be harassment—that could have been an interesting debate. But instead, in sadly predictable fashion, the students plowed ahead with a harassment claim that, based on the hearing panel’s decision, appeared not even to raise the issue of whether or not the statements in the ad were true, but turned only on how they made people feel.

A panel consisting of both faculty and students found the publication guilty in flagrant abuse of what harassment case law and regulations actually say, and demonstrating total ignorance of the principles of a free society. Even in libel law (one of the oldest exceptions to the rule of free speech is that you can be punished for defaming people) truth is rightfully an absolute defense. Here, the fact that TPS printed verifiable information—with citations—was apparently no defense, nor was the fact that the ad concerned contentious issues of dire global importance.

Such an anemic conception of free speech should chill anyone who cares about basic rights and democracy itself.  I doubt that the Tufts disciplinary board thought through the full ramifications of their actions. If a Muslim student had published these same statements in an article calling for reform in Islam, would that be harassment? If Tufts wished to be at all consistent (a dubious bet here), it would be.

Since those students and faculty obviously did not think about the ramifications of this decision, we put it to you, President Bacow: do you think the publication of factual assertions should be a punishable offense if they hurt the wrong people’s feelings, regardless of whether or not they are true? I hope he will think hard on what the U.S. would look like if that was the law of the land. It’s not a country that most of us would recognize or even want to live in. We ask again for President Bacow to live up to the best principles of a liberal university in a free society and overturn this dangerous decision.

Schools: Tufts University Cases: Tufts University: Conservative Student Journal Found Guilty of Harassment