The everything-is-offensive brand of campus activism has struck a new low: Students at the University of Minnesota killed a proposed moment of silence for 9/11 victims due to concerns—insulting, childish concerns—that Muslim students would be offended.
Has it truly come to this? Is feelings-protection now such an overriding goal that completely unreasonable fears win out, even if they have no basis in reality? Can we not even have a single moment to recognize legitimate victims of terrorism without worrying that someone will feel marginalized on campus?
Theo Menon, a Minnesota Student Association representative and member of the College Republicans, realized that the university wasn’t doing anything to memorialize 9/11; on Oct. 6, he introduced an MSA proposal to do just that. The very short resolution asked the university to institute a “moment of recognition” during the mornings of all future September 11ths.
The resolution proved weirdly controversial. According to The Minnesota Republic:
At-large MSA representative and Director of Diversity and Inclusion David Algadi voiced severe criticism of the resolution. He also made sure to emphasize 9/11’s status as a national tragedy in his response.
“The passing of this resolution might make a space that is unsafe for students on campus even more unsafe,” said Algadi. “Islamophobia and racism fueled through that are alive and well.”
To be clear, the resolution did not refer to Islam. It did not impugn Muslim students, or other Muslims. It did not require anyone to contemplate the fact that the terrorists responsible for 9/11 were Muslims. It said nothing about whether Islam itself is to blame for global terrorism. It merely stated that 9/11 has had a lasting effect on many students, and ought to be reflected upon for a single moment, once a year.
And yet, in an email obtained by The Washington Post, Algadi expressed concerns that efforts to recognize 9/11 are sometimes thinly-veiled expressions of Islamophobia.
Believe it or now, Algadi was not alone in his opinion—a majority of student government representatives sided with him, voting down the resolution in a 36-23 vote this month. There would be no moment of silence at UMN on Sept. 11, 2016, if students had their way.
Showing insufficient mournfulness for the great national tragedy that was 9/11 is itself deeply offensive to many people, however, and UNM’s administration was quickly inundated with demands for a rebuke of the vote. UNM President Eric Kaler announced Wednesday that he would formalize the moment of silence anyway.
“We certainly did hear from folks on this,” said Evan Lapiska, a spokesperson for UNM, according to the Star Tribune. “Dean Johnson and President Kaler wanted to make sure that the folks were aware that the U is committed to honoring the victims.”
Kaler’s reversal of the vote is a good reminder that student government politics are ultimately a pointless sideshow. That’s probably a good thing. What would these despots-in-training do if they had any real power?
I can understand a certain amount of wariness about invoking 9/11. It’s undeniably true that demagogues peddling authoritarian solutions to the nation’s problems raise the terrifying specter of another mass terrorist attack on U.S. to justify their proposed abridgments of our freedoms. Such thinking got us the Patriot Act and the Iraq War. Even today, politicians are invoking 9/11 as part of their paranoid, nativist reaction to the idea of letting Syrian refugees into the country.
It’s also true that anti-Muslim bigotry exists, and there are people who blame all Muslims for the actions of a radical few. We should argue against these sentiments, and we should work to end the terrible acts of revenge-violence against innocent Muslim Americans.
But we can do all those things while still taking a single moment out of our days to mourn the thousands of victims—Muslims among them—of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. There’s nothing intrinsically insulting toward Muslims about that. In fact, it’s the people who presumed Muslims’ feelings would be hurt by such a moment of reflection who are actually the ones insulting them.
Of course, it’s not just Muslim students’ whose feelings are zealously guarded by the new regime of campus censors. Students at university after university are demanding the right to turn campus spaces—even public spaces—into “safe” spaces: zones of total emotional and intellectual coddling. What’s more, these students assert that administrators are required to enforce these safe spaces, even at the expense of free speech.
As I recently explained in a video for Reason TV, students already enjoy the right to physical safety; universities are required to protect them from violence and threats. But under this new definition of safety—in which hostile or irritating viewpoints are just as contemptible as actual violence—literally any act, or statement, or expression, could be a violation of the safe space ethos. No one’s rights—least of all liberal student activists’ rights—are safe on campus if administrators (and even the cops) are given a mandate to protect the community from being offended.
Ultimately, whether or not a campus has a moment of silence to reflect on 9/11 is a fairly low-stakes conflict—people should be free to remember or not-remember 9/11 in whatever manner they choose. But killing the moment out of misplaced concerns about offendedness and safety is just about the silliest thing students could do.
Can we take a moment to reflect on how petty, infantilizing, and ultimately self-defeating college students’ goals have become?