Mere days after the University of California at Berkeley announced that liberal comedian Bill Maher would deliver the commencement address at December graduation, a petition surfaced online aiming to prevent it from happening. The petition calls him a "blatant bigot and racist," and says that his "public statements on various religions and cultures are offensive." It then concludes, "It is the responsibility of the University of California to protect all students and uphold a standard of civility."
In just one paragraph, the petition nails the self-righteously indignant progressive trifecta, first with its accusations of bigotry and racism, then its invocation of the word "offensive," and finally its insistence that students at the university -- in theory an institution that thrives on free expression -- somehow need protection from speech. The petition itself doesn't list any specific opinions of Maher's, but his broadsides against Islam are clearly the driving force, as evidenced by the fact that the petition's author "is backed by the Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian Coalitions." As of Tuesday afternoon, the petition has nearly 2,700 signatures.
Welcome to the world of the anti-liberal Left, where just being a liberal like Maher isn't sufficient to remain in the good graces of outrage-happy progressives. Like any comedian worth a damn, Maher pulverizes the sacred cows of society into ground beef, and to some this is unappetizing. As we learned in March from the idiotic #CancelColbert fiasco, there's a worrisome number of so-called liberals who are all too eager to pile onto their fellow leftists for imagined slights against any community that isn't comprised primarily of straight white men.
Wanting to protect oft-marginalized groups is understandable and admirable, but criticizing a religion isn't the same thing as being bigoted against all those who practice it. And to insist that it is, is tantamount to insulating religion from critique. For all its inherent silliness, the word "Islamophobe" has been an incredibly powerful epithet used by illiberal progressives to smear and intimidate those who dare criticize Islam, which, as an Abrahamic religion, is anathema to modern liberal values such as women's rights, gay rights, and more broadly, freethinking.
In addition to stifling dissent within the liberal ranks, there's another troubling aspect of anti-liberal progressivism: the abandonment of rational, objective inquiry and debate, which comprise the sine qua non of liberalism. Postmodernists and Critical Race theorists have a lot to answer for in this regard. Take for example, what has become of the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA), which "is now the primary national association promoting policy topic intercollegiate academic debate." In April, The Atlantic alleged the existence of a "white-privilege problem" in collegiate debating. It's worth quoting at length:
"On March 24, 2014 at the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) Championships at Indiana University, two Towson University students, Ameena Ruffin and Korey Johnson, became the first African-American women to win a national college debate tournament, for which the resolution asked whether the U.S. president’s war powers should be restricted. Rather than address the resolution straight on, Ruffin and Johnson, along with other teams of African-Americans, attacked its premise. The more pressing issue, they argued, is how the U.S. government is at war with poor black communities....
"This year wasn't the first time this had happened. In the 2013 championship, two men from Emporia State University, Ryan Walsh and Elijah Smith, employed a similar style and became the first African-Americans to win two national debate tournaments. Many of their arguments, based on personal memoir and rap music, completely ignored the stated resolution, and instead asserted that the framework of collegiate debate has historically privileged straight, white, middle-class students."
And so, the winners of the last two college debate championships won by engaging in the blatant logical fallacy of avoiding the question. Lest you think this is an unwelcome development, consider the words of one interested academic:
"Joe Leeson Schatz, Director of Speech and Debate at Binghamton University, is encouraged by the changes in debate style and community. 'Finally, there’s a recognition in the academic space that the way argument has taken place in the past privileges certain types of people over others,' he said. 'Arguments don’t necessarily have to be backed up by professors or written papers. They can come from lived experience.'”
It would be difficult to conjure a more appalling view than this. Intended as a justification for this style of "debate," the professor's statement carries with it the sinister notion that nonwhites simply cannot compete in debates without appealing to their personal experiences because their knowledge of actual topics may very well be lacking. Indeed, this year's CEDA finals made a veritable mockery of the very idea of debating (and should you doubt this, watch for yourself if you can tolerate this spasmodic performance).
Now, if you think that debaters should follow debate rules while debating, please know that this makes you a racist. As Rutgers University Professor and Salon writer Brittney Cooper helpfully explains,
"To mischaracterize and diminish their accomplishment is the height of white elitist racism, and it is deeply rooted in an anxiety about the ways that Black people and Black forms of knowledge production fundamentally shift the terms of political discussion."
Shame on you if you thought black people had the same "forms of knowledge production" as everyone else.
According to this illiberal progressive narrative, not only are we not allowed to question the supposed legitimacy of avoiding the question and recounting subjective experiences as tactics of argumentation, but if we do, we are engaged in "the height white elitist racism." That's right. If you believe that debate participants should be evaluated on how well they tackle the debate question using facts and arguments, you are a racist.
Illiberal progressives have developed a formidable dialogue laden with emotionally-charged neologisms designed to insulate their arguments from criticism while simultaneously dismissing out of hand those of their opponents. It is now considered sufficient to discredit arguments by accusing their authors of "mansplaining" or saying that they need to "check their privilege." The arguments themselves are merely peripheral. For example, here's how a research assistant at Berkeley's Islamophobia Studies Journaldescribes Maher's invitation:
"Rude, arrogant, and undereducated in his critiques of Islam, Maher publicly argues that 'liberal western culture is … better, [than Muslim culture],' as well as blatantly denying that Islamophobia exists.
"It is unfathomable that UC Berkeley, a claimed center of liberal values, has chosen to host an Islamophobe which sanctimoniously undermines and invalidates the experiences of students on campus."
The writer makes no attempt to rebut the arguments. He simply puts forth Maher's past statements, as if we're all supposed to be as offended at Maher's rejection of the idea that all cultures are morally equivalent -- a given among the multiculturalist crowd. Note too, the allegation that Maher's words haven't merely challenged the student body, but that he "undermines and invalidates the experiences of students on campus," as if Maher's comments somehow have the ability to shatter and de-legitimize people's whole lives.
Increasingly, the Left is becoming the ridiculous politically correct caricature of itself that was previously an exaggeration of especially creative conservative minds. But now, such exaggeration isn't necessary thanks to illiberal progressives hellbent on purging anyone from the movement who isn't 100% in lockstep with their views. And woe unto those who challenge them with facts and argumentation, because as we all know, those things are racist.