A Tale of Two Dangerous Ideas

Another old one.

The Sydney “Festival of Dangerous Ideas” was celebrated as a platform to spout such dangerous, “offensive, obnoxious, fearsome, dangerously stupid” ideas as “Israel is an Apartheid State”, “Genital Cutting is Normal”, or even that “Honour Killings are Justified”. One thing that was immediately obvious was that FODI’s roster was heavily weighted to the left (the inclusion of Andrew Bolt in 2016 caused a flurry of protest).

The left love “dangerous ideas”. Or so they say.

Yet, it seems that some ideas are more “dangerous” to the left than others, depending on the vagaries of intersectional victim politics. Where one dangerous idea is vociferously defended, another sends the snowflakes scurrying to the comfort of their safe spaces.

The vastly different reactions to two different dangerous ideas, expressed by two different academics in 2017, illustrate the glaring double standard.

In January, Georgetown University professor Jonathan Brown delivered a lecture on Islam and the problem of slavery. As a student attendee, Umar Lee noted, Brown spent the majority of the lecture talking about slavery everywhere but in Islam. “Historic slavery in the Arab and Turkish World slavery was described … in glowing terms”.

At the very time the Islamic State were sexually enslaving entire populations in the middle east, Brown also touched on the question of the rape of slaves. “Consent isn’t necessary for lawful sex,” he declared.

“I thought the Muslim community was done with this dishonest North Korean style of propaganda,” said Lee. “Apparently not.”

Brown was heavily criticised by Daniel Pipes’ Campus Watch and other conservative media. Yet, none suggested he should be barred from expressing his opinion. “I defend his freedom to express himself,” wrote one. “Without fear of recrimination or losing [his] job.”

Left-wing media, however, wrote sympathetic puff pieces, denouncing Brown’s critics as “Islamophobia Inc” from “the far-right”. Brown also blamed “the alt-right”, claiming personal threats, in a factually inaccurate “apology” defending his academic freedom.

Political Scientist Bruce Gilley’s paper, “The Case for Colonialism”, in Third World Quarterly, on the other hand, was apparently too “dangerous” even to be allowed.

Briefly, Gilley argued that, firstly, rather than an unadulterated evil, colonialism objectively brought some benefits to the peoples it subjected. Secondly, many nations had performed objectively worse, both in human rights and development, since decolonisation. Finally, that in some cases, a return to some forms of colonial governance would benefit struggling nations – especially given that, in many cases, NGOs and supra-national organisations like the UN and the World Bank already impose ur-colonial governance structures.

The reaction to Gilley’s paper was swift and ferocious. Notwithstanding that Gilley’s paper had been properly peer-reviewed, other editors resigned en masse. The article was attacked relentlessly, often with assertions as ridiculously inaccurate as anything Gilley was accused of (for instance, Cato’s Sahar Khan, incredibly, claimed that slavery was invented by the Portuguese in 1500) or by just lazily shouting “racist!”, while not actually rebutting any of his arguments.

But that wasn’t all: there were petitions, and finally, after what the journal called “serious and credible threats of personal violence”, the paper was retracted.

Despite some protests, academics have mostly been disgracefully silent. This is all the more shameful, because what has happened here is unprecedented in academic literature: a journal by a leading academic publisher has backed down, not because of the peer-review process, but because of death threats. “I’ve never heard of an academic article prompting credible death threats against the editor of the journal in which it was published, let alone a journal withdrawing an article on the basis of such threats,” wrote University of South Carolina’s Justin Weinberg. This is possibly the most serious academic backdown since Gallileo was forced to recant.

The fate of these two “dangerous ideas” illustrates just how deadly the left’s intersectional tribalism has become to free intellectual inquiry. The only “dangerous ideas” the left are willing to entertain are the ones that aren’t dangerous to them or their pet victim groups.

Thus, if a Muslim argues that slavery is acceptable, or honour-killing, the left will not only defend them, but even give them a platform at one of the great sites of Western Enlightenment achievement. But if a non-victim-group academic – even worse, one who has openly criticised the leftist bias of the academy – dares muse that maybe colonialism wasn’t all bad, the left not only stands silent by as the mob marches on the academy, but may even grab a few torches and pitchforks themselves.

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