By: Pat Mascio, Towson Student and Student Government Association Attorney General
Recently, a speaking event for Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley was canceled due to peaceful protests that turned violent thanks to a minority in the crowd. In the days that followed, Mr. Yiannopoulos and his supporters cried foul and claimed that his First Amendment right to free speech was being restricted. Matt Teitelbaum, a senior at Towson, agreed with those sentiments and wrote an article entitled “I’m a Liberal and I Want Milo Yiannopoulos On My Campus.”
For those of you who do not know who Milo Yiannopoulos is, he has been known to deny the existence of rape culture, equate all Muslims to terrorists and preach that gay rights are detrimental to society. That’s just to give you a general idea of the special kind of moron we’re dealing with.
Now, I have worked with Matt through College Democrats, and I know that he has good intentions. I understand that the overall point of his article was to show that we should debate ideas that we do not agree with instead of merely just shouting them down. He, like so many other Americans, is yearning for a political discourse that extends beyond cheap punchlines and name-calling.
I, too, think that we need better political discourse in this country. I believe that there is a lot of merit in the exchange of ideas and openly debating those you disagree with. I agree that debating our differences is critically important and is one of the foundations of our country. What I don’t agree with is giving illegitimate ideologies legitimate platforms. Milo Yiannopoulos has proven himself to be anti-woman, anti-LGBTQIA+, anti-Islam, etc. He is a cancer to political discourse, not an asset.
Devaluing other human beings’ lives and rights is not a legitimate ideology. That is straight ignorance.
When we, as a society, engage with these ideas we normalize and legitimize them. There is no debate on the merits of ideologies fueled by hatred and oppression. This is not small government vs. big government — this is people’s humanity. When we give people like Milo Yiannopoulos a platform to amplify his hatred, we drown out all of the voices of the minority communities that he targets. We cannot value somebody’s desire to spew verbal violence over the mental health and safety of those he is attacking.
As a white, straight male I will never truly experience the feelings and anxieties that Milo’s rhetoric inspires in many of my peers with different identities.
But as Democrats, we are supposed to be the party that embraces diversity and is an effective ally to minority communities. You cannot claim to be an ally to minorities while also actively enabling somebody who attacks their livelihoods. That makes zero sense.
Milo’s rhetoric is horribly dangerous to many members of Towson’s community. A person that does not value the rights and humanities of Towson students does not deserve the opportunity to come into our space and speak his ignorance. I don’t say this because he’s a conservative — I say this because he’s an asshole. This is an issue that transcends politics. This isn’t about blue vs. red or Democrat vs. Republican. This is about looking out for those who have so often been left behind. This is about giving a voice to the voiceless. This is about humanity.
Many political commentators and conservatives have recently made the assertion that free speech is dying on college campuses. This narrative is simply ridiculous. Just because colleges are taking a stand and not allowing racist, sexist, homophobic rhetoric on their campuses does not mean that free speech is under attack; it means that they are standing up for their students.
Free speech is alive and well, and the fact that Milo is even relevant is a testament to that. In this country, we have the right to free speech, but we don’t have the right to be protected from backlash when we cross the line. People like Milo love saying ignorant things and then claim their speech is being restricted when others rise up against it. Milo Yiannopoulos can say whatever he wants, but nobody is obligated to engage him. Simply not giving somebody an audience cannot be classified as censoring them. That is not restricting free speech — that is holding people accountable for their actions and words.
Some people will read this column and probably accuse me of being intolerant of ideas different than my own. Well, you know what? If those opposing ideas are grounded in racism, misogyny and prejudice, then you are damn right, I’m intolerant.
I’m intolerant because I refuse to believe that all Muslims are terrorists? I’m intolerant because I believe in equitable rights for all peoples? I’m intolerant because I won’t stand for somebody coming to my campus and verbally attacking my peers? If that’s what we are considering as intolerance nowadays, then consider me one intolerant son-of-a-bitch.
I’ll leave you with this. Matt Teitelbaum is under the impression that anybody who will not debate with Milo is displaying “intellectual cowardice.” Matt, you are flat out wrong. I think it takes courage to stand up to a bully like Milo. I think it is brave to stand up for what is right, even when the status quo tells you to do otherwise. I think it is the opposite of cowardice to stand up and say, “We’re not going to take any of your BS anymore.”
Trust me Matt, nobody is running away from this battle. Nobody is retreating. We are right here on the front lines. See, you have it all twisted. You think that the resistance is weak, intellectually inferior and cowardly. You can’t see that we are strong because we have each other. You can’t see that we are smart because we can identify when somebody is trying to divide us. You can’t see the courage it takes to actively resist these ideologies full of hatred, when the rest of society aims to normalize them.
Step outside of your bubble and realize that this is bigger than any one of us. Sometimes it’s not easy to do the right thing. Personally, I would rather struggle doing what is right, than compromise my values as a human being doing what’s easy.