Columbia Professor: Speech From Right-Wing Politician Constituted 'An Act of Violence'

Wikimedia Commons
October 23, 2017

A professor at Columbia University recently argued that he was justified in shutting down a speech by a far-right British politician because his speech represented an act of violence.

Tommy Robinson, co-founder and former leader of the anti-immigration and anti-Islam English Defense League, previously served as a leader in Britain's far-right British Freedom Party. Columbia University College Republicans invited Robinson to give a talk on "The Fall of Europe: Mass Immigration" via Skype on Oct. 10.

The Columbia Daily Spectator, the school's student newspaper, reported that the speech was immediately interrupted and shut down by shouting left-wing protesters. Many of the protesters carried signs reading "hate speech = violence."

In an op-ed the following week, doctoral fellow and Law School faculty member Kayum Ahmed wrote that he was under investigation by the administration for taking part in the demonstration, but defended doing so.

Ahmed said he filed a formal discrimination complaint before the speech, asking for it to be shut down.

"Mr. Robinson's invitation to speak on campus not only violates my dignity but constitutes an act of violence, [and] is a form of harassment and discrimination," he wrote Columbia's Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action.

"While I recognize Mr. Robinson's right to free speech, his presence on campus (albeit via Skype) is a threat to my safety and security since his speech may encourage fellow students to act in a violent way toward me," Ahmed added.

Ahmed lamented that Columbia adopted "a narrow conception of free speech" that denied that hate speech is an actual form of violence.

"Lips move, sound travels, and words penetrate," he insisted. "And sometimes, these words constitute an act of violence or result in physical forms of violence."