I am writing with respect to your coverage of Dr. John Lewis' April 24 talk at your University. John Grimsley's article in the Broadside Online of May 4, 2007, titled "No Substitute for Conflict - 'Defeat of Islamic Totalitarianism' Met with Protest" refers.I find it deeply disturbing that Mr. Ogunshola was ejected from the Lewis talk under such circumstances, particularly when the people who were actually disrupting the talk were allowed to stay and continue with their disruption. I hope that the Mason community continues with its soul-searching over the importance of free speech and intellectual freedom on campus, and resolves to never surrender that freedom again.
Mr. Grimsley wrote: "One audience member was kicked out over a dispute with another person."
This "dispute" was far more substantive than is suggested by the write-up. I am the person who was asked to leave, and my eviction by the school authorities was absolutely unjustified.
I am not a student at GMU but a visitor: a 33-year-old software engineer who attended the event in order to hear Dr. Lewis speak. I was seated at the back of the room before the talk began and moved to the front only because the unruly "protesters" were obscuring the vision and hearing of the rest of us in the audience. In my new seat, I happened to be in the second row, behind some of the College Republicans, and four seats to the right of three individuals who were noticeably antagonistic towards Dr. Lewis' remarks.
In the very tense and inhospitable atmosphere engendered by the "protesters," I asked a young woman two seats away from me why the (University) policemen present couldn't remove the "protesters," since they were so disruptive and obviously did not want to listen to the lecture. As she nodded in agreement, the antagonistic individuals to my left chorused, unsolicited, "Free speech!" My response was to ignore them, softly noting under my breath, "Not in here," for I am well aware that one cannot invoke free speech out of context. To invoke free speech on behalf of these "protesters" would be akin to doing so on behalf of a person who shouts "Fire!" in a crowded theatre for no reason.
As soon as I turned away from them, these individuals got up from their seats and went towards the back of the hall. Since I did not turn my head completely, I do not know what transpired there.
They returned about fifteen minutes later and proceeded to seat themselves *directly* around me. There was a large, heavily-bearded man in a suit behind me in the third row; another man in glasses in a longish shirt to my left; and a third fellow next to the large man behind me. The bespectacled fellow made menacing faces at me as he sat down. In the near-riot atmosphere, I wondered about my physical safety.
During the talk, which I found powerful in its identification of many truths, I and others stood up several times to applaud Dr. Lewis.
The lecture ended, and the question-and-answer period began. Two lines were formed on the floor, to the left and right of the stage, upon which the speaker, Dr. Lewis, stood. The heavily-bearded individual behind me stood up and joined the line on my left in order to ask a question. When his turn came, he identified himself as a Moslem and posed his questions. Dr. Lewis responded to his questions. The next person in line, a woman, asked her questions. While Dr. Lewis was delivering his answers to those questions, the heavily-bearded fellow, who was now back in his seat behind me, began to shout objections at Dr. Lewis' remarks. This effectively drowned out the speaker, especially for me, as I was so closely seated to the objector.
Acting on the assurances made by the leading university official present [the Director of Student Life for Multicultural Affairs, if I recall correctly] that disrupters would be warned and removed, I asked the man behind me to join the line if he wished to ask another question. When he bluntly refused, I warned that I would ask the authorities to remove him. In a most histrionic manner, he stood up violently and exclaimed, "Is that a threat?!!" This had the effect of drawing attention to both of us, especially as his bearing and tone implied that I had threatened him physically. As one security officer (male, dark-haired, medium-build) approached, I told him and all who cared to listen that I had not threatened my accuser in the way he had suggested. I then repeated what I had said to my accuser. The officer politely told me he would like to have a word with me by one of the lines formed near the stage. Because of my respect for the law and for lawful conduct, I stood up and followed the officer.
When we got to the stage, I stood there quietly, waiting for a calm investigation, as befits proper law-enforcement, to commence. One of the other security officers (bald, medium build), walking towards the doors, signaled to the man who had asked me to stand up. The dark-haired officer then asked me to walk out of the room with him. I asked him why. Gesturing toward the stage where the Director stood, he said a university official had asked that I be escorted out.
Not wishing to cause any commotion, I walked out, hoping to state my case more easily once in the lobby. To my amazement, I was accused of threatening to "break [my accuser’s] neck"!!
Did my accuser allege this, I asked? No, said the bald officer, who then maintained that *he* had heard me threaten my accuser. This lie was delivered with a straight face – without any moral compunction. I maintained my innocence, over which he bluntly ordered me to leave. I left quietly, stating "for the record" that his charges were false.
The above is my honest recollection of that evening’s events.
One can see that, in spite of my total, civilized co-operation, no benefit of the doubt was accorded me. I was judged without any hearing whatsoever. It is a mystery how the officer who said he had heard me could have done so, since no officer was seated in the audience and since even people seated two or three seats away from me have reportedly said they did not know anything was going on until my accuser raised his voice. Yet, the disruptive "protesters," who seemed on the verge of effecting bodily harm on the speaker, were allowed to operate freely.
It is a terrible shame that this injustice could have taken place at George Mason University, or at any American university for that matter. As an immigrant to the United States, I hold this country in the highest esteem, as the nation which symbolizes the very best of Western Civilization: the unimpeded use of man’s reason to seek truth by analyzing the facts of reality. American universities are the bastions of free inquiry, and American law and law-enforcement are centered on the protection of this inalienable individual right.
These university policemen did not seek to gather, much less analyze, the facts of a narrow situation such as occurred inside Johnson Cinema that Monday. They did not even attempt to question witnesses or bother to have my accuser repeat his charges to my face in the lobby. Civility was met with force, while the mob mentality prevailed.
If this is how George Mason University protects the rights of the individual, one can only wonder about the safety of its members.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
The continuing debate over John Lewis' speech at GMU
It seems that the fallout from John Lewis' talk at George Mason continues to settle judging by some recent letters-to-the-editor printed in the campus newspaper. In this one, the writer alleges that the charges that Lewis' talk was disrupted by pro-Iranian sympathizers are overblown on the grounds that the only person ejected from the event by police was a Lewis supporter. Unfortunately for this claim, the person who was removed tells a far different story of his ejection in a letter his submitted to the student paper but was never published. I include the letter below:
Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 10:12 AM