What happened when one student invited Robert Spencer to Florida State.
Florida State University College of Law is rather moderate as far as law schools go. Sure, nearly all the faculty are committed leftists, but they tend to be fair in their instruction, and are always willing to engage a conservative or libertarian constructively. The student body’s a mixed bag ideologically. Most of the student organizations are oriented leftward, the campus Republicans exist in name only, and the most visible, and best-attended, student organization is our chapter of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, for which I serve as President.
The Federalist Society is the nation’s premier fellowship of law school conservatives and libertarians. We are a diverse coalition, united by our commitment to an originalist jurisprudence. Known in some circles as “right-wing extremism,” originalism is a legal hermeneutic whose guiding principle is that laws retain their original public meaning until they are legally rescinded or amended. This contrasts with the predominant leftist hermeneutic, which considers the law to be a “living” instrument – not in the sense that it is open to amendment, but in the sense that laws promulgated at one moment can take on different meanings in another, by judicial fiat. The “living constitutionalist” believes judges are charged with reinterpreting the law in light of what is believed to be a legal metanarrative reflected in the broader legal tradition; the letter of the law is not so important as its spirit, a spirit which just so happens to accord with whatever leftist notions of personal morality and social justice happen to prevail at the time of adjudication.
The Federalist Society is a nonpartisan organization. We do not take stances on the controversial social and public policy issues, but we do foster debate and discussion of these issues from conservative and libertarian perspectives. Whatever the personal views of members and officers, the Society does not endorse the ideas presented by invited speakers.
(By extension, any and all ideas presented in this article are my own, and not that of the Federalist Society.)
On Tuesday, March 30, my FSU Law chapter will be honored to have Mr. Robert Spencer lecture on “Introduction to Islamic Jurisprudence: What You Need to Know.” The flier for the event is simple enough: the aforementioned title, suspended above one of the controversial Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons. The cartoon I chose for the event is the one that features a fearsome Muhammad, his eyes shielded by the censor’s black bar, flanked by two women in dressed in black niqabs, with a clear bar leaving room only for their eyes.
The approved fliers were put up around campus on the evening of March 24th. By the following morning, almost half of them were taken down, and at least one remaining one defaced with “This Is Racist!”. The fliers were unlawfully removed by members of the newly founded chapter of the Muslim Law Students Association (MLSA) and various leftist fellowships on campus. They conveyed their offense to administration, and I was invited to meet with three of the deans that afternoon, along with the professor who acts as faculty advisor to both the MLSA and ACLU chapters. (As of this writing, the torn-down fliers have not been replaced by the administration or the MLSA.)
The faculty conveyed to me their concern that several students considered the cartoon to be offensive to Arabs. I quickly replied that a) Islam is not a race, b) most Muslims are not Arab, c) most Arabs in the United States are not Muslim, and d) Spencer himself is of Middle Eastern ancestry. (Interestingly, I may be as well. Both my parents are from Sicily, and my mother’s maiden name, Scianna, appears to be Arabic in origin.)
To their credit, the administration is not asking me to cancel Mr. Spencer’s lecture, is not compelling me to take down or edit the fliers, and have assured me that no counter-rally/protest will be permitted to disrupt the event as scheduled. They have asked me, with considerable rigor, to self-censor the aforementioned political cartoon, and have conveyed to me their impression that the image is gratuitously offensive, that my publication of it discredits the Federalist Society and the conservative movement, that the prestige of the law school is at stake, and that I will be (at least in part) morally responsible for any violent reaction and hurt feelings which occur as a result. I was also warned my professional reputation would suffer, both during and after law school.
The faculty advisor went further to accuse Mr. Spencer of radical extremism. When I pressed him to name a single extreme idea of Spencer’s, the only thing he would point to is Mr. Spencer’s endorsement of our flier. After the deans alerted me to the fact that the FSU police department would be preparing security for the event, and I remarked how shameful it was that such a measure was deemed necessary, I was assured that this was the same treatment that would be afforded a guest speaker who was a neo-Nazi. Further comparisons ensued: the cartoon was compared to the advertisement, some years ago, of a “Pimps and Hos Party” by some students at the law school– indeed, the MLSA faculty advisor did not know whether that party was as offensive as the cartoon! The cartoon was also compared to a pornographic display, or an anti-Semitic caricature.
Various colleagues have expressed similar sentiments to me, some more rationally than others, and I feel the various accusations deserve a response. It is being claimed that the Muhammad cartoon(s) bears no relationship whatsoever to Mr. Spencer’s upcoming lecture, and has no relationship to anything relevant to we living in the United States.
I vehemently disagree.
Let me take this time to school my colleagues, and those others on the political left, or the cowardly right, who share a fundamental disrespect for religion, and so for religious distinctives. Ideas are not all equally valid, nor do they all equally withstand intellectual scrutiny, whether that criticism is conveyed artistically, literarily, or scholarly. And this is true of religious ideas as it is of any “secular” conceit. To answer one of the deans’ comparisons, it does not stand to reason that because usurious money-lending is not intrinsic to Judaism, that therefore violence and subjugation of women/gays/non-Muslims is not intrinsic to traditional Islam. The best defense one can ever give to the charge of libel or slander is Truth, and any truth-claim that a reasonable person can defend is a legitimate object of political satire.
Secondly, I assured my esteemed elders that I agree with them, in principle, that one ought not to gratuitously offend the religious sensibilities of one’s fellow man. But as with any precept of the moral law, the principle is more readily agreed to than the application. I do believe the aforementioned cartoon is legitimate satire, cleverly contrasting the treatment sharia law affords to images of Muhammad with what it mandates for women (among others). And it is a fact that Muhammad was a conquering warlord who wielded a scimitar. These inconvenient truths are no more sacrosanct than the priestly sex-abuse scandals and subsequent episcopal cover-ups, which have been, and still are, legitimate subjects for satire.
Not only does the image speak to the subject of sharia law, but it does so in a way that reflects current events and the current political climate. Just a couple of weeks ago, two American Muslim women were arrested for plotting to assassinate a Swedish cartoonist who drew similar caricatures of Muhammad. And the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the United Nations’ largest voting block, has been at work for years trying to convince the non-Muslim world to incorporate sharia-inspired anti-blasphemy laws into their legal systems.
That is what should offend my esteemed colleagues at the Muslim Law Students Association: The fact that there are men fearing for their lives over the publication of a political cartoon, and not in some Talibanic theocracy, but in one of the most “liberal” environs on the planet! Where were my Muslim colleagues, and their useful idiots on the left, when just last week well over 500 Christians and their families were massacred by Islamists in Nigeria? Where were they when news broke that one Mr. Arshed Masih, a Pakistani Christian who would not convert to Islam, was burned alive and his wife raped while their two children were forced to watch? Why weren’t they staging rallies on the FSU Law campus demanding accountability from the international community for these outrages against human rights? Why does it take the publication of a reasonably defensible political cartoon to arouse their moral indignation, when every month hundreds, if not thousands, are butchered (and millions more subjugated) in the name of the religious system which these cartoons supposedly misrepresent?
No, I do not believe in going out of my way to offend reasonable persons. But there is nothing in the flier advertising Mr. Spencer’s event that should offend the sentiments of a reasonable person, even a reasonable Muslim moderate. I cannot possibly be expected, and nor should anyone else, to cater to the morally retarded sensibilities of an oversensitive minority.
I am proud to stand in solidarity with the Jyllands-Posten cartoonists, Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Lars Vilks, Geert Wilders, Brigitte Gabriel, Wafa Sultan, Nonie Darwish, the late Theo van Gogh, and all others who are resisting modern academia’s imbecilic canons of self-censorship. I hope I can say the same for many of my colleagues, in Tallahassee and abroad. I wish I could say the same for my professors.
Eric Giunta is a Juris Doctor Candidate at Florida State University College of Law, where he serves as President of that school's premier conservative-libertarian debate society. He has written for LifeSiteNews and RenewAmerica.com. He maintains a blog, "Confessions of a Liberal Traditionalist," at lexetlibertas.wordpress.com. He welcomes any offers and suggestions which would refute his professors’ grim prognostications for what this incident bodes for his professional career!