Free speech must be (almost) absolute: Saad
Gad Saad is Jewish and emigrated from Lebanon due to religious persecution, yet he supports freedom of speech for Holocaust deniers.
That’s how committed he is to an open dialogue, something he says is being lost in the western world.
Saad is scheduled to speak Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Regina Education Auditorium on “forces that impede the free and rational exchange of ideas.”
“I support the right of grotesque, diabolical people saying that the Holocaust and anything that I might have experienced is a hoax. Why? Because that’s what freedom of speech is. It’s the right for people to be idiots, to be wrong,” said Saad, a marketing professor at Montreal’s Concordia University and the Canada Research Chair in evolutionary behavioural sciences and Darwinian consumption.
There are only two exceptions to “absolute” freedom of speech, Saad said. The first is using words to directly incite violence against other people. The second is defaming or libelling someone.
Those criteria aside, it is “dangerous” to decide what other people can and can’t say.
That’s what happened last month, as Saad was set to be part of a panel at Toronto’s Ryerson University, cancelled in protest of two speakers: Faith Goldy, a former Rebel Media contributor, and Jordan Peterson, a professor who has refused to use students’ preferred gender pronouns.
The panel discussion topic was “the stifling of free speech on university campuses.”
“I guess the irony was lost on the people who shut us down that that event was stifled,” Saad said.
Saad counts himself as neither right nor left politically, but “a classically liberal guy.” He said the political left drives most of academia, which can be detrimental.
“As a student, what you’d like to develop is your ability to critically think, to analyze different positions and then form an informed opinion,” Saad said. “But if most of the professors tend to be almost exclusively linked to one particular political ideology, then you are removing the intellectual diversity that is needed, especially in a university.”
Saad said he has received emails from students afraid to express an unpopular opinion lest they be ostracized or receive a failing grade.
“Really we’re pretty much like North Korea at this point,” Saad said. “I mean, people are walking around afraid that someone might find out the dark, dark secret that they preferred Trump over Hillary Clinton.
“You could have a million very, very good reasons to dislike Trump, and I would understand probably all of them. But is it really a good idea for professors and for students to be walking around fearful …? Is this the type of intellectual environment that we want?”
Saad said if people disagree with an idea, they should “fight them with better ideas.”
“Be committed to the truth, battle others peacefully through dialogue, through debate, through science, and then hopefully the better ideas win,” he said.
“But what we’re seeing today is there is a group of people that get to decide whether Gad Saad is allowed to speak on campus or not. And if people don’t see how dangerous that is, then I’m afraid we’ve already lost the battle.”