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par Bradley SMITH
The essay that won first place in FIRE’s 2014–2015 Academia Essay Contest was quite uplifting. You awarded it to Arianna Samet, a junior at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School in Teaneck, New Jersey, for her essay, “America is The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. But…Are its Universities ?”
At the same time, her references to her grandparents and their experiences in the Holocaust struck me as ironic in their context of freedom of speech, because the orthodox Holocaust narrative today constitutes the greatest force extant in America, in the world, against freedom of speech. The context of her essay was freedom of speech in colleges and universities in America today, but the scope of the Holocaust’s erosion of free speech under the direction of American college academics and administrators is fully global, extending far beyond even the countries in which the events themselves occurred.
Her celebration of America’s freedom of speech is quite valid vis-à-vis that of other Western, “democratic” countries such as France and Germany, where the jails contain prisoners convicted of Holocaust “Denial”, usually under the rubric of “false news” or “racial incitement”. No such crime exists in the statutes of the United States, though spreading laws against “hate speech” make inroads of the kind that may soon be used for the purpose of suppressing speech that is free.
But getting back to the American university campus and FIRE, the organization dedicated to freedom of speech on campus, the situation is such, as I should think, would arouse foreboding in Ms. Samet’s grandparents. Just last month, in an interview with his college’s newspaper, Cameron Weaver of American River Community College mentioned that he found certain aspects of what he had been taught about the Holocaust to be dubious. These remarks were reported among others he made during the interview, and a movement immediately arose to recall him from the position to which his fellow students had elected him on the board of trustees of his college. The president of the college felt called upon to disavow and condemn the “anti-Semitic” prejudices that had been imputed to him on the strength of his remarks.
All this is disturbing enough, but what redoubles the import of the situation, especially for FIRE, is that FIRE made no move whatever to support or protect Weaver for expressing his honest opinion on a matter of history to a reporter who was interviewing him for the student newspaper, the American River Current. Not only that, among the dozens of cases FIRE proudly recounts as examples of its unrelenting battle in support of free speech on campus, I have been unable to discover even one in which a student attacked for expressing improper thoughts regarding the Holocaust received the slightest support from FIRE for the student’s right to do so.
FIRE’s announcement mentions that Ms. Samet attends a Yeshiva, so Holocaust “denial” is no doubt a phenomenon very far from her experience. Yet many students on other campuses would entertain such views if only the facts that are now vigorously suppressed as Holocaust “denial” could be expressed without fear of retribution such as that suffered by Cameron Weaver.
It’s a big world out here and Ms. Samet appears to be willing to enter it with an open mind and a good set of values. I hope she retains those virtues and will continue to deploy her eloquence in support of the fine ideals that FIRE espouses with so much energy, but which you, the President and CEO of FIRE, so selectively embody in your actions.