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Defending Our Community Values: A Letter to the Editors

To the Editors of the Clerk,

I read, with great dismay the article written by David Canada ‘20 titled The Supreme Court, Honor Code, and The Muppets: Reform for Free Speech and Expression. I would like to offer several responses to Canada’s argument. While the logical incoherencies in this article are many and the factual inaccuracies abundant, I have chosen a few to respond to.

Let’s start by evaluating Canada’s argument that somehow the discrimination clause is connected to genocide. Canada writes:

This same ideological imposition and belief in community morality, or majority morality, as absolute morality also led to ethnic and religious cleansing in Germany, Turkey, Rwanda, Iran, and Iraq in the 20th century alone.

When Canada offers historical evidence, he should be prepared to defend it. Vaguely naming countries and their associated human rights atrocities does not automatically make an argument. Canada cited Germany, Turkey, Rwanda, Iran and Iraq. I think he should, therefore, be prepared to defend each one of these cases in the context of his thesis. Let’s take the unbelievable logical leap required to move from a discrimination clause to genocide as a given and evaluate his claims based on evidence.

I struggle to understand why Canada cites Rwanda, especially when the facts do not line up. The Interahamwe militia relied on radio to spread support for the genocide, in which the Hutu Majority talked about the necessity for a “final war to ‘exterminate the cockroaches” (Smith). When the Interahamwe relied on radio as a means to sow the seeds of genocide, and then fan flames of support during the Rwandan genocide, it is very difficult to see why he cites Rwanda as a case study to support his thesis. In fact, when considering whether the United States should intervene by jamming Rwandan radio, “in early May the State Department Legal Advisor’s Office issued a finding against radio jamming, citing international broadcasting agreements and the American commitment to free speech” (Power). His very argument that free speech is somehow sacrosanct even when genocidal ideas are being pushed was part of the reason that the Rwandan genocide was so brutal and horrifically efficient. Indeed, systemically going through each one of these historical cases would find that any causal connection between Canada’s argument and systemic genocide is farcical, at best.

Let’s also take a moment and point out that it is patently ridiculous to suggest that a college-level policy on hate speech is at all related to government-level policy. The fact that we have behavioral standards as a college does not change government-level policy at all. All we are saying is that as part of our community, Canada signed a social contract to follow our behavioral standards. The fact that he draws a comparison between the Supreme Court and Honor Council, as if they are somehow one and the same demonstrates his naivety and lack of understanding of the code.

Is a Moral Majority even a bad thing? The Preamble of the Honor Code states that “students seek mutual understanding by means of respectful communication”. We are held accountable by the Honor Code “for our words and actions” (3.01). Indeed, the preamble that states the intent of the document Canada signed upon deciding to come here seems to make it clear that the Honor Code is steeped in Moral Majority. We have a document that tells us that there are behavioral standards to which we are held accountable. I fail to see why Canada sees a single sentence explicitly prohibiting acts of blatant discrimination as somehow more of a Moral Majority than any other, when the entire document was steeped in a Moral Majority. That in itself is a contradiction.

Canada “implore[s] us to reflect upon historical injustices committed against unpopular opinion and action in the name of public decency and perceived security”. He ends his article by quoting the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. I would first like to point out that co-opting a civil rights leader and quoting him grossly out of context to push his point forward is not only poor writing, it is an insult to the Reverend. Especially, given Canada is defending the right of a White person to “burn a cross on a black family’s front lawn”, as if somehow the societal license granted to him by a racist system is a “historical injustice committed against unpopular opinion”.

Let me make this absolutely clear. Veiled in Canada’s language of fake moderacy is the same rhetoric that has allowed unabated systemic racism. The notion that somehow cross-burners are marginalized is so patently ridiculous it does not deserve light of day.

Moral Majorities are not created equal. I fail to see the comparisons you draw between Naziism and an amendment that states that acts of discrimination by definition violate our code. Believing that there are community standards does not make me a Nazi. It does not make me a genocidaire. It does not make me a member of the KKK. In fact, these ideologies protected themselves and continue to protect themselves under the guise of free speech. This article is an insult to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, the Kurds in Iraq, Blacks who lived under slavery and Jim Crow laws, Tutsis murdered in Rwanda and so many more oppressed groups whose struggles, stories and names you have co-opted to make an incoherent point.

I expect better from a Haverford student. I expect better from a fellow community member.

With Trust, Concern and Respect,
Kevin Jiah-Chih Liao ‘18

Works Cited:

Power, Samantha. “Bystanders to Genocide.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 01 Sept. 2001. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.

Smith, Russell. “The Impact of Hate Media in Rwanda.” BBC News. BBC, 03 Dec. 2003. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.

If you would like to submit an opinion, contact our Editor-in-Chief, Maurice Rippel at mrippel@haverford.edu