Famed Harvard Law professor and attorney Alan Dershowitz is a staunch defender of civil liberties. He has served on a number of high-profile court cases, including working on Nelson Mandela’s international legal defence team.
Though he has worked on behalf of one of history’s greatest supporters of civil rights, Dershowitz opposes recent uprisings on college campuses against racist speech. These protests, at least ostensibly, seem to align with the Mandela’s goal of fighting racism and with other liberal views.
But Dershowitz counters that students shouldn’t get a free pass to stamp out beliefs that don’t align with their own. He pointed to pre-Nazi Germany as a cautionary tale against impeding the free speech rights of others.
“In the 1930s, the worst oppression was by students on campuses,” he said. “Students were the ones who started burning books in Munich and Berlin. Students were the ones who physically assaulted Jewish professors. So don’t tell me students are the wave of the future. They can often be the oppressive intolerants representing the worst of the pack.”
At numerous schools — including the University of Missouri and Yale University — students have protested racism on campus and called for the resignation of administration members who they say are creating a dangerous environment. And at Amherst College, students have threatened to respond in a “radical manner” if their demands are not met.
Dershowitz contends this trend is dangerous and infringes on free speech. He also argues students are pseudo-liberals hiding under the cover of progressivism to impose their demands.
“I’m a liberal,” Dershowitz told Business Insider. “I support many of the goals they support. But they’re not liberals. Liberals accept opposing points of views. Liberals believe in free speech.”
At Yale, students have argued discussions about free speech obscure their goals of making students of colour feel less marginalized on campus.
One student, Aaron Lewis, wrote a post wrote on Medium contending catchy headlines about inappropriate Halloween costumes obscure the racist attitudes students of colour encounter.
“The protests are not really about Halloween costumes or a frat party,” Lewis, a senior at Yale, wrote.
“They’re about a mismatch between the Yale we find in admissions brochures and the Yale we experience every day. They’re about real experiences with racism on this campus that have gone unacknowledged for far too long,” he added.
But for Dershowitz, students are missing the point that no idea or belief — no matter how despicable — should be expelled from campus. Free speech must remain at colleges even if it’s racist, according to Dershowitz.
“Everything should be allowed,” he said. “Ideas are permissible.”
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