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Last week, the president of Columbia University in New York, Nemat Shafik, testified before Congress that protestations and chants (e.g., "From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free") not only threaten the safety of Jews but also could require disciplinary actions. Well, that is recently what happened there, where more than 100 Columbia students were arrested, suspended and evicted for protesting in a pro-Palestinian encampment. After protests continued over the weekend, the school announced Monday that classes will be held remotely.

The big point here is that students on the left have always supported censorship on campuses. They always wanted students on the right to get censored. But now, it is being turned against them. In other words, the censors are getting censored. Or as we say in Arabic, the magic has turned against the magician.

Salman Rushdie is an interesting figure to bring into this discussion because he has his heart in the right place, having been almost stabbed to death by a religious fanatic in 2022. Nonetheless, Rushdie puts his money where his mouth is. He recently told "60 Minutes" that "to support censorship in theory on behalf of vulnerable groups is a very slippery slope. It can lead to the opposite of what you want." Of course, that is exactly what happened at Columbia University, where students who call for censorship got censored.

And, of course, there is no shortage of censoring incidents at American colleges and universities. For example, in Minnesota at Hamline University, a professor who showed images of the Prophet Muhammad was denounced for hurting the feelings of Muslims. The identity politics at American colleges and universities are confusing at best, ludicrous at worst. There is no consistency to it.

Rushdie predicted the outcomes, a priori, when he said back in 2016 that "it's a very dangerous path for people to take to use censorship as a way of defending minorities, because it will backfire." It already backfired at Columbia, and such a trend might metastasize to other campuses, sooner rather than later. Rushdie is consistent with his principles: He supported free speech before he was stabbed and after it. He was not following the status quo but rather was trying to shape it.

Here we must make a useful distinction between physical violence and speech violence. Of course, universities shall prevent any form of threat or actual physical violence. But speech can't (and shouldn't) be equated to physical violence. In fact, if we insulate students against speech, then we are compromising their education by limiting what could be said. Institutions of higher education should prepare students for debating different kinds of speech, or otherwise they would be derelict.

The issue of regulating speech is that it is a dangerous weapon. Once a group accords itself the prerogative to regulate speech through that moral weapon, such a weapon will eventually be weaponized against them. Just as bad arguments are better rebutted with good arguments, bad speech should be countered with good speech. Simply put, we should not silence bad speech but rather we should speak up against it.

Shafik, 61, was grilled at the congressional hearing by Rep. Elise Stefanik, 39, where Stefanik was not only framing the questions but also the answers. It seems as if Stefanik was putting words into the mouth of Shafik — and as if Shafik was making decisions right on the spot. Here I am reminded of a lawyer who always responds to a yes-and-no question with the notorious line, "You cannot frame a question and then frame my answer. You have not lived enough for that," which is particularly true in the Shafik-and-Stefanik polemical debate.

The situation at Columbia, after what happened at Hamline, is a lesson that we should be consistent at heeding our principles, just as Rushdie is. We cannot fire professors because they said the wrong thing. Nor can we lock up students for saying the wrong thing. That is not education. It is what I call indoctrination.

Abdulrahman Bindamnan is a Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota.