Dare To Speak: Defend­ing Free Speech for All

June 29, 2019

Online trolls and fas­cist chat groups. Con­tro­ver­sies over cam­pus lec­tures. Can­cel cul­ture ver­sus cen­sor­ship. The dai­ly haz­ards and debates sur­round­ing free speech dom­i­nate head­lines and fuel social media storms. In an era where one tweet can launch — or end — your career, and where free speech is often invoked as a prin­ci­ple but rarely under­stood, learn­ing to maneu­ver the fast-chang­ing, treach­er­ous land­scape of pub­lic dis­course has nev­er been more urgent.

In Dare To Speak, Suzanne Nos­sel, a lead­ing voice in sup­port of free expres­sion, deliv­ers a vital, nec­es­sary guide to main­tain­ing demo­c­ra­t­ic debate that is open, free-wheel­ing but at the same time respect­ful of the rich diver­si­ty of back­grounds and opin­ions in a chang­ing coun­try. Cen­tered on prac­ti­cal prin­ci­ples, Nos­sel’s primer equips read­ers with the tools need­ed to speak one’s mind in today’s diverse, dig­i­tized, and high­ly-divid­ed soci­ety with­out resort­ing to curbs on free expression.

At a time when free speech is often pit­ted against oth­er pro­gres­sive axioms — name­ly diver­si­ty and equal­i­ty—Dare To Speak presents a clear-eyed argu­ment that the dri­ve to cre­ate a more inclu­sive soci­ety need not, and must not, com­pro­mise robust pro­tec­tions for free speech. Nos­sel pro­vides con­crete guid­ance on how to rec­on­cile these two sets of core val­ues with­in uni­ver­si­ties, on social media, and in dai­ly life. She advis­es read­ers on how to:

  • Use lan­guage con­sci­en­tious­ly with­out self-cen­sor­ing ideas;
  • Defend the right to express unpop­u­lar views;
  • And protest with­out silenc­ing speech.

Nos­sel warns against the increas­ing­ly fash­ion­able embrace of expand­ed gov­ern­ment and cor­po­rate con­trols over speech, warn­ing that such stric­tures can rein­force the mar­gin­al­iza­tion of less­er-heard voic­es. She argues that cre­at­ing an open mar­ket of ideas demands aggres­sive steps to rem­e­dy exclu­sion and ensure equal participation.

Replete with insight­ful argu­ments, col­or­ful exam­ples, and salient advice, Dare To Speak brings much-need­ed clar­i­ty and guid­ance to this press­ing — and often mis­un­der­stood — debate.

Discussion Questions

Dis­cus­sion ques­tions cour­tesy of the author

1. If a group of Jew­ish stu­dents wants to host an event at Hil­lel includ­ing a speak­er who sup­ports the Boy­cott, Divest, Sanc­tions move­ment should they be per­mit­ted to do so? What if the pan­el also includes oppo­nents of the move­ment? What about host­ing mem­bers of Break­ing the Silence, for­mer IDF sol­diers who are high­ly crit­i­cal of Israel’s pol­i­cy and gov­ern­ment? What if the event was not on Hil­lel, but rather in a class­room booked by Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Palestine?

2. Should a stu­dent who posts on social media a pho­to of them­self with a swasti­ka drawn on their shoul­der be dis­ci­plined in any way by their col­lege or uni­ver­si­ty? Does it mat­ter if the uni­ver­si­ty is pub­lic or private?

3. Would it be bet­ter if the Unit­ed States fol­lowed the Euro­pean approach and made Holo­caust denial illegal?

4. What, if any­thing, should be done if some­one turns up at a cam­pus Hal­loween par­ty wear­ing a cos­tume of a Hasidic Jew, com­plete with a plas­tic nose? Is such a cos­tume accept­able? Does the uni­ver­si­ty have any respon­si­bil­i­ty to respond? Does it mat­ter if the cos­tume wear­er is Jewish?

5. There is a major push right now to ensure that con­fer­ences and pan­els include ade­quate rep­re­sen­ta­tion from mem­bers of racial minor­i­ty groups as well as of women to ensure that those his­tor­i­cal­ly exclud­ed groups have a seat at the table and a voice. Should con­fer­ence or pan­el orga­niz­ers be think­ing about whether Jews are rep­re­sent­ed ade­quate­ly and, if so, under what cir­cum­stances and in rela­tion to what sorts of issues and topics?

6. If some­one posts a par­o­dy shot of a Trump Admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial depict­ed as a Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camp guard, should Twit­ter take that tweet down? Close the account? Does it mat­ter if it was clear­ly done as par­o­dy? What if it was a tweet shar­ing a pub­lished car­toon with that depiction?

7. Is free speech a Jew­ish val­ue? Why or why not? How does it mesh with oth­er Jew­ish val­ues like chesed, Tikkun olam, and the search for truth?

8. After run­ning a car­toon of Bibi Netanyahu depict­ed as a dachs­hund, which many read­ers and com­men­ta­tors — as well as the paper’s edi­to­r­i­al board — crit­i­cized as dis­play­ing obvi­ous anti-Semit­ic stereo­types, the New York Times decid­ed to stop run­ning polit­i­cal car­toons entire­ly. Was that a good out­come? What else might the paper have done to pro­tect against future such incidents?