Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Toronto non? 

If you have been following the Mark Steyn trials in Canada -- where Steyn has faced legal sanctions for writing about demographic trends in the West and relative birth rates of Muslim immigrants versus native and other immigrant groups, in Steyn's witty and biting style -- you may be interested to read that some political scientists are asking the American Political Science Association to protect the free speech of its conventioneers when they meet in Toronto next year. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

The political-science petition, whose initial signers include Robert P. George, a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, and Harvey C. Mansfield, a professor of government at Harvard University, warns that scholars visiting Toronto might face legal jeopardy if they made controversial statements. Scholars should be able to speak about �public policy concerning homosexuality or the character of and proper response to terrorist elements acting in the name of Islam, without fear of legal repercussions of any kind,� the petition reads.

The campaign has the flavor of a boycott. According to a report in the National Post, the petition�s authors plan to distribute buttons at this week�s conference that say �Toronto 2009? Non!�

But the petition itself makes a milder demand. It asks the association to solicit legal advice and to consult with the Canadian government to ensure that scholars� civil liberties will be protected. �Our petition is simply asking for clarification,� said one of its authors, James R. Stoner, a professor of political science at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, in an interview with The Chronicle today. �We�re asking the APSA to acknowledge that there�s some issue concerning this, and that we can presume that the customary standards of academic freedom will be assured.�

Aside the usual reaoons of low attendance, there are very good reasons to not hold an academic conference in a place like Venezuela -- the regime there might not like, say, a Latin Americanist who researches Hugo Chavez's crimes and discusses them from the podium in Caracas. It would be irresponsible for an organization to invite a speaker into that situation. Likewise, if the APSA cannot assure the academic freedom of speakers to an academic conference, it should make arrangements to either move the conference elsewhere or to make a public statement declaring it cannot provide protection. I would hope it could do the former.

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