Truong: Angry Voices

Both David Horowitz and his protesters should rethink their approach.

by Valerie Truong | 11/1/18 2:05am

I received several attention-grabbing emails in my inbox last week. The messages advertised that conservative commentator David Horowitz would be coming to campus to discuss “Identity Politics and the Totalitarian Threat from the Left.” Potentially provocative email subject lines containing quotes by Horowitz included “Israel is the victim,” “Angry voices of the left” and “Identity politics is racist.” The planned format of the event was 40 minutes of prepared remarks, followed by a 20-minute question and answer session. 

Part of me considered going to the event to find out why this man believes Israel is the the victim in its conflict with Palestine. Another part of me didn’t want to support a man who has been criticized for being “anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black.” The most convincing part of me reminded myself that I had a midterm the morning after. 

Though I didn’t attend, in the days leading up to and after the event, I was surprised to learn of the methods of remonstration employed by protesters. According to The Dartmouth’s reporting on the event, acts of protest included holding up posters that opposed Horowitz’s views, working on laptops while using headphones, interrupting the lecture with questions, playing music audibly from laptops, speaking loudly to friends, scattering fliers in the aisle upon leaving and kissing each other near the front of the room. Horowitz’s reactions and response to these protests were arguably worse: he defaulted to sweeping statements, name calling and fanaticism.

I think that both Horowitz and his protesters were there to incense each other — from what I gather from the article and photos, it sounded like a food fight, but with words. Horowitz was wrong to verbally abuse protesters with unnecessarily degrading terms like “ignoramus,” “gorillas,” “jacka—es” and “idiots,” to name a few. Clearly, his insecurity and short fuse was revealed as he began his talk already on the defensive: he attempted to refute a flier that students had circulated around campus referring to him as a “racist, sexist, and ignorant bigot.” 

Students and community members have the right to protest a guest speaker, but to be rude in doing so may be counterintuitive. Audible and visual disruptions only serve to propel the most negative of positive feedback loops: the protester distracts Horowitz from his speech, so he lobs irrational epithets back at the accuser, only to foment greater anger and unrest from members of the audience. After all, if you wouldn’t be this disruptive during your professor’s lectures, why do it here? Yes, you’ll probably never see Horowitz again (in person at least), and he isn’t going to grade you on what he espouses, but there are more conducive ways to convey that you don’t agree with his viewpoints.

For those who either agree with Horowitz’s views or are curious about what he has to say and why he’s saying it, go to the event. For those who disagree with his views, no matter how vehemently, there are two options that are more productive than a word war for all parties involved. First, you can choose to abstain from attending. An almost empty room would demonstrate that not enough people care about what he has to say to dedicate an hour of their day to listen. Everyone’s time is precious and forever dwindling, and that hour could be used in better ways. Second, you can still attend the event, and instead of fighting Horowitz by causing a scene, patiently listen to his statements, no matter how wrong, ignorant or hateful they seem to be. For each point of his that you disagree with, when it is time for the Q&A section, ask him why. If you feel that he hasn’t explained sufficiently why he believes in something, ask him why and how he has reached that conclusion. If he can’t respond with a cohesive answer that directly answers your question, then his claims are unfounded. Ask him the hard questions, but in a non-inflammatory, non-accusative way. Maybe it’ll get him to think about what he’s saying, or maybe it won’t. It’s extremely difficult, but these are the processes that facilitate the exchange of ideas and critical thinking.

It is nearly impossible for people to always be surrounded by those who agree with them in every major topic or subject of debate. Learning how to conducively respond to contrarians now will help students accomplish more and work toward compromise in the long run.