Stifling free speech 'not healthy'

Oren Amitay’s grandmother survived Auschwitz.


But that didn’t prevent him and fellow panellists who were scheduled to take part in a cancelled Ryerson University discussion from being called fascists, Nazis and anti-Semitic.

“It has got to stop,” the well-known Toronto psychologist, Ryerson teacher and media commentator said Wednesday. “The name calling, the labelling and prevention of free speech is not healthy.”

It is, however, effective.

The panel discussion — set for Aug. 22 — was billed as the “stifling of free speech on university campuses.”

It featured Amitay, high-profile university professors Gad Saad and Jordan Peterson and recently-fired The Rebel journalist Faith Goldy.

The stage was set for what would have been an interesting, and perhaps fiery, discussion, which would have included Goldy offering a defence of her decision to go on an alt-right podcast: “Not as an endorsement, but to naively try to show the alt-right movement was spreading like wildfire.”

In light of the tragic events that resulted in the heinous murder of an anti-fascist protestor during a violent rally against white supremacists in Charlottesville, Ryerson pulled the plug.

“The safety of our community is a top priority. In light of recent events, Ryerson has made the decision to cancel the Aug. 22 event,” the university said in a tweet.

The irony that a panel discussion about free speech on university campuses had to be cancelled at Ryerson was not lost on anyone.

“We are doomed,” tweeted Saad. “I don’t know what else to say. If people don’t rise up, freedom of speech will disappear.”

And not only that, but the people who were supposed to be on that stage have been branded racists just like the ones down in Charlottesville.

“No, no, no,” tweeted Saad. “The enemies of truth who shut us down referred to us as Nazis, anti-Semites, and white supremacists.”

Amitay said the lumping in of anybody involved in a panel discussion is an alarming narrative spreading across the U.S. and Canada.

“The way things have become, if you are not part of the far left, you’re seen as a Nazi,” said Amitay.

It’s not nice, but it is effective. It’s not easy to erase such a tag thrown around so irresponsibly.

Amitay “loves Ryerson,” where he has taught courses for 16 years and understands the institution’s interest in ensuring there were no injuries arising from the panel discussion.

That said, from my point of view, if people want to keep free speech — and not be defined by largely anonymous enemies — they must stand up to such bullying.

As long as it’s constructive, it’s productive to have an exchange of ideas and it’s not necessarily bad to engage in passionate and non-violent discourse. Having a dialogue about race, gender or immigration is not racism just because a political movement — which pushes a guilt-by-association narrative — brands it as such.

And painting everybody on a panel as a racist without even hearing their diverse points of view is odious.

“The labelling is just plain wrong,” said Amitay.

And not because he’s of Jewish background with “a Japanese wife and siblings that are gay and black.” It’s wrong because it curtails freedom of expression, thought, ideas and opinions.

“I teach my students about critical thinking and to challenge things,” said Amitay.

It’s not a stretch to challenge outrageous accusations that Amitay is a Nazi when he’s the grandson of a woman who had a serial number tattooed on her wrist.

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