Threats of violence the modern way to muffle free speech

Threats of violence the modern way to muffle free speech, by Tom Whipple.

It was never going to be a quiet addition to post-colonial literature. “For the last 100 years Western colonialism has had a bad name,” began Bruce Gilley, a political-science professor from Portland State University. “It is high time to question this orthodoxy.”

Over the next 6000 words his academic paper in Third World Quarterly argued not only that colonial rule was beneficial and legitimate, not only that subsequent independence had created a “cesspool of human suffering”, but also that Western rule should be reintroduced in the developing world.

The Case for Colonialism led to the resignation of half the journal’s editors. Retracted this week, it created a row just as intense, because the stated reason was not quality, but “serious and credible threats of personal violence” against the publisher.

Amid accusations of intolerance on US campuses, this retraction has been taken by some as another sign that free speech is under threat. Jonathan Haidt, professor of ethical leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business, said argument itself was being closed down, and that the appropriate way to object to an academic paper should always be to write another in response. “Retraction is the new rebuttal, and threats of violence against journal editors is the new way to get a retraction,” he said.

John K Wilson, who writes for Academe magazine, said it was a dangerous precedent. “There’s a real danger when we give in to death threats, whether it’s cancelling speakers or censoring publications. The obvious danger is to free expression but it also creates a greater incentive to threaten.” …

And, of course, attacking the author is de rigueur:

Even before the retraction, Gilley had himself called for its withdrawal, saying: “I regret the pain and anger it has caused for many people.”

hat-tip Stephen Neil