It didn’t take long for opposition to Harper’s Magazine letter featuring 153 heavyweight intellectuals, largely academics and writers protesting censorship, to engage counter protest. Not from the Right as one might suppose, but from the Left in a counter letter featuring 160 signatories, published in the online site, The Objective.
Some argued the Harper signatories were white, economically privileged, academic elitists who don’t merit any claim to duress for their views. “They are totalitarians in the waiting,“ commented Parker Molloy of Media Matters. “They are bad people. They want you to shut-up.” Molloy is referencing the current cancel culture conflict, intimating the Harper signatories would repress minorities from speaking out.
Not only is this the race card fallback again, but it’s absurd on two counts:
Twenty-four of the signees were people of color. As one Black signatory to the Harper letter wrote, “If they didn’t recognize your name, they assumed you’re white.”
Protestors seem to have ignored signatories Salman Rushdie who had to go into hiding after a fatwah was issued on his life and must still change his addresses frequently, or chess champion Garry Kasparov who was ostracized in Russia for opposing Vladimir Putin.
Do you think Noam Chomsky and Gloria Steinem haven’t been told to shut-up by adversaries from the Right?
What especially rankles some is J.K. Rowling’s presence on the Harper list. You may not agree with her sentiments re: transgender access to bathrooms as a traumatized rape victim, but she’s the one they specifically want to shut-up, with some calling for a boycott.
Ironically, there are several rank hypocrites among the Harper signatories: New York Times editor Bari Weiss, literary scholar Cary Nelson, and political scientist Yascha Mounk. Weiss and Nelson have actively worked to silence pro-Palestinian voices; Mounk in 2019 enthusiastically supported the Bolivian coup bringing Jeanine Añez to power. Since then, massacres have followed, dissent been restricted, and an election postponed.
In all of this comes the need to distinguish criticism from censorship. The first is fundamental to liberal democracy; the latter, its nemesis. The Left’s vitriolic response, its ad hominem assault by race, economic status, and on alleged motives of the Harper signatories bear all the trademarks of a repressive body politic inimical to debate.
Leftist writer Freddie de Boer’s gets it right: “The people furious at this letter largely have genuine ideological problems with liberal norms and laws regarding free speech. Please, think for a minute and consider: what does it say when a completely generic endorsement of free speech and open debate is in and of itself immediately diagnosed as anti-progressive and anti-left?”