I am a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. I am also a friend of many Muslims, ex-Muslims, and dissidents from the US, Europe, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the wider Muslim world. I have seen firsthand – and by way of endless readings and discussions – the serious need for people across the West to take seriously the plight of those faring from much of the Muslim world, and the threats of violence, shame, exile and death faced by those who speak out against regimes, theocrats, and especially on the need for reform within their own faith. Many secular liberals in the West have callously and hypocritically dismissed this reality, retreating comfortably back into the protective enclosure of thought bubbles and politically correct ‘intellectual-moral communities’ – communities in which one can openly be a secularist or an atheist while ignoring the plight of those exponentially less privileged by the freedoms of speech, conscious, and religion (or lack thereof) that past Generations of soldiers and warriors fought and died for. If there is one theme which ties respect for Veterans Day to the plight of dissidents from the Islamic world, it is the need for a heartfelt resurgence of free speech and open discussion across America’s censored college campuses.
I think that veterans – especially student veterans who abound across our campuses from coast to coast, in whose community I am certainly included – can be at the tip of the spear in renewing a culture of free speech and an appreciation for these freedoms. I think they can work with intellectuals, scholars, and science and reason advocates to help foster this kind of understanding, in a living conversation. This can be done in solidarity with our Muslim reformers and ex-Muslims. The decisive importance of true diversity of thought cannot be understated, and I cannot think of any three groups – Veterans, intellectuals of philosophy, science & skepticism, and dissidents from oppressive societies – better equipped to do this. They should do it together, to truly build an empowering and meaningful conversation across this country.
I strongly encourage readers it look into the new ‘PC crisis’ on college campuses, as well as to watch the South Park episodes on ‘PC Principle’ and ‘Safe Spaces’. Here are a few of many links to this increasingly disheartening erosion of free thought and free speech on campuses: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/11/the-new-intolerance-… , and here, http://www.campusreform.org/?ID=6967, as well as videos, such as https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBjdkEDFxQA. Also, Jonathan Haidt’s great work (among many of his writings on the topic), on tackling the “Coddling of the American Mind” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dj5QmZPzvlQ.
Back to the need to empower dissidents and give them more of a speech platform, especially across our most Politically Correct campuses, who seem to least appreciate Western freedoms and who need to hear the voices of these dissidents the most. In much of the Islamic world, especially the Middle East and Central Asia, vocally identifying as a secularist or atheist will get your head used as chopping practice for the mob. People who vocally identify as such within these Western thought bubbles have to occasionally worry about ridicule for the color of their Holiday Starbucks cup. Suffice it to say – with understatement – that the moral gravity of this distinction is of pivotal importance.
Freedom of Religion is not free. Neither is Freedom of Speech. Yet I see freedom of speech and diversity of thought under increasing assault on our campuses, despite the sacrifices made for those freedoms. I also see a soul-crushing double standard towards our cherished Freedom of Religion – so endlessly lauded by liberals from coast to coast – by the neglect to stand up for those without this privilege. I see this double standard played out in the shameful treatment by regressive forms of pseudo-liberalism toward Muslim and ex-Muslim dissidents, who often hail from parts of the world in which such freedom is greatly lacking. I see them being treated with dismissal and disdain by many on the Left, for merely speaking out with honesty and conviction about the uneven moral terrain of different cultures. For merely admitting that there are deficits within their own culture (notice we have no trouble admitting this about our own culture, nor should we have trouble doing this!), and that we in the Free World should finally admit in unison that some cultures value freedom of thought, religion and speech more than others. Often, they are ridiculed by the Regressive Left for boldly stating that that we in the West must stand in solidarity with those who choose to elevate their own cultures beyond the bigotry of low expectations. Despite their plights and principles, they are often turned away from speaking platforms on our college campuses in the name of ‘protecting students from hurtful or dangerous speech’. In this ethical equation of Newtonian genius, the emotional well-being of an Ivy League upper middle class Yale student is worth more than the need to hear firsthand witnesses speak honestly about lives and well-being of millions under the tutelage of theocracy, torture, suppression, beatings, sexual abuse, and unspeakable shaming. Cosmic discrepancies in human flourishing are ironically found in many of the very societies that these Leftists claim to want to defend and protect from hurtful speech. If this does not strike you as the moral inversion of the Decade, I don’t know what does.
Some of these dissidents I know personally, and their accounts of their own treatment by Regressive Leftists are nothing short of appalling. I also knew friends who died fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, some of whom I served with during my time in the military. Unsanctioned speech and thought is still a crime in much of the world, and a fleeting ‘privilege’ across the very campuses that should be the loudest in standing up for the oppressed. I hope I don’t come across as too demanding when I ask for support across academia for a public platform for Veterans, Muslim reformers, and ex-Muslim dissidents to speak and be heard across our college campuses nationwide.
I am proposing today – the day after Veterans Day – that Veterans across America stand up for the rights of these dissidents to be heard across our college campuses.
One thing that Veterans and Muslims have in common is that they are both heavily misunderstood groups, if we can even loosely use the word ‘group’ for the sake of simplicity. For Veterans Day, I released a Proposal Letter, titled A Renewal of Free Speech, Critical Thinking, and Respect for the Oppressed. To quote from this Proposal Letter,
“Dissidents, ex-Muslims, self-described Muslim reformers, Freethinkers, and asylum seekers in America and Britain, many of whom hail from the Islamic world, are often treated with the coldest of reception within campus and media culture, typically by the very people who most vocally and fervently claim to respect diversity, sensitivity and minority rights. As Dr. King said,
“In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”
The paradoxical state of this intellectually and morally disreputable form of censorship should be deeply troubling to anyone who claims to subscribe to the above values and principles. We must encourage a surge of dissent within the Left to recognize and respond to this, through a combination of compassion and unwavering courage. It is no myth – as the footnotes in this proposal will point out – that these oppressed minorities from the Islamic world now living among us, will often meet such resistance as they speak out using the very platform enjoyed by those of us fortunate enough to be born in a free society. When they do tell their story and speak honestly about their life experiences and their views, they are often shamefully labeled by many illiberal Leftists as turncoats, native informants, brown human shields, Uncle Toms, Islamophobes, bigots (toward their own culture, supposedly), and far worse.
With exception, such reflexive labeling is typically done without evidence or logical argument, and contradicts the very concept of the innate value and worth of the individual.”
(end of citation)
It should be noted that this repository of morally insidious lexicon includes a name I will not repeat here, which was directed at Maajid Nawaz, co-founder of Quilliam and co-author, along with Sam Harris, of Islam and the Future of Tolerance. Maajid also coined the term Regressive Left. Well done sir.
The sub-section of this wider Proposal Letter is as follows (and please feel free to share across every corner of this country and the campuses that lie along its expanse from coast to coast):
That Veterans stand in Solidarity with Dissidents from the Islamic world, and in solidarity with the right of their voices to be heard. People like my friend and Global Secular Humanist Movement founder Faisal Saeed al-Mutar, or the members of Ex-Muslims of Britain, have seen a side of human confinement in the most anti-intellectual and discriminatory of conditions, with fear of stigma, shaming, arrest, harm, even death lurking around every expression of their true feelings – something the vast majority of today’s college students will never know. Yet these dissidents are often opposed by the culture of speech policing that today’s generation of students has created. They are often called names and given labels – as mentioned above – without a fair hearing or the willingness to protect their right to speak. These people have earned the right to be given the benefit of our collective judgments against such debasing labels, and I won’t stand on the sidelines nor be silent as this occurs.
As someone who freely enlisted into a post 9-11 military, knowing the near certainty of the war-zone, and who has lost friends to two different wars, I will not stand for free speech being taken for granted nor denied to the very people we claim to want to empower and protect from insensitivity and harm. Neither will veterans across America. I propose that veterans by the hundreds – ideally, by the thousands – stand in solidarity with the right of dissidents from abroad to be heard on our campuses, and for free speech to remain a treasured principle of this country, in every campus that enjoys the freedoms we signed up to protect. The younger Generation currently in school has, for the most part, never set foot in a war-zone, nor been abroad to places where freedom is scarce. Most have never even seen a passport. They of all people must hear the stories of those who come from such places, and a living dialogue of solidarity between our veterans and these dissidents and Freethinkers, working through the speech medium of our college campuses and alternative media outlets, should be strived for.