This post is about the month-long uproar at the University of Michigan triggered by a satire of liberal thought by a conservative Muslim student, Omar Mahmood. As a result, he was fired by the Michigan Daily and the door to his apartment was pelted with eggs and covered in obscene graffiti.
When I read Omar Mahmood’s parody, Do The Left Thing, I was rolling on the floor. The kid is good. I mean, he has it. Oh sure, no doubt he was going to rile up all the folks who bleed with every papercut, but that’s the point of satire. Piss them off. Make them think. It’s a great change of pace from wallowing in feelings of misery.
That Mahmood was met with the whine of the tenderhearted, his satire created a hostile environment at his other paper, was par for the silliness course.
And until recently, he enjoyed writing for both of the campus’s newspapers: the institutional, liberal paper, The Michigan Daily, and the conservative alternative paper, The Michigan Review.
After penning a satirical op-ed for The Review that mocked political correctness and trigger warnings, The Daily ordered him to apologize to an anonymous staffer who was offended and felt “threatened” by him. He refused and was fired.
Frankly,those who fail to understand why the anonymous staffer felt threatened haven’t been paying attention. I completely understand, and fully support, the anon staffer. Mahmood’s satire forced the staffer to do something no young person should ever be required to do, ever be required to suffer: think. This is, after all, the age of feelings, and it is clearly sufficient that deeply held beliefs not bechallenged, as it gives rise to mental damage that no one should ever have to endure.
But that the Daily, in the face of such offensive conduct, fired Mahmood for his lefty-ism is a cloud that will hover over it for a very long time. By the way, the Daily isn’t a person, and can’t speak or make a decision. The decision must have come from the Most Special Snowflake Editor, or the Board of Delicate Teacups, to fire Mahmood rather than smack the anon staffer for being a disgrace to a student newspaper.
Just so it’s clear, the Daily’s Editor in Chief is Peter Shahin. Someday, he may want to be taken seriously as a journalist, and his decision here will haunt him. It should. He might have more of a future inlaw school, as he has none in journalism.
But that his fellow Michigan students are too wobbly to handle satire should not have surprised Mahmood. He should have anticipated someone complaining, crying, that his parody cut them like the sharpest sheet of paper ever, and the lean-in group at the Daily would demand his sacrifice. Mahmood may have hoped for some press freedom, some intellectual and political breadth, but he’s in college. He had to know better.
What he might not have anticipated, however, is what happened next:
Last week, he became the victim of what The College Fix has described as a “hate crime.” The doorway of his apartment was vandalized in the middle of the night; the perpetrators pelted the door with eggs and scribbled notes like “shut the fuck up” and “everyone hates you you violent prick.” They left copies of the offending column and a print-out picture of Satan.
To add insult to injury, the foul-mouthed vandals were caught on video donning their hoods for the attack.
It turns out that four female students were so angered, so hurt, by Mahmood’s words that they felt compelled to act upon it, because writing “shut the fuck up” will overwhelm a person with guilt and regret.
One of the key components in the discussion of free speech and the expression of ideas is their words, their ideas; conduct is where the line is drawn. So these four crossed the line. Irony, sure. Hypocrisy, obviously. But feelings can be so very overwhelming, you know?
Let’s make clear that this is not a condemnation of Social Justice Warriors, but only four girls (yes, girls, notwomen, which reflects their immaturity) who failed to demonstrate minimal restraint. It doesn’t speak to their gender, as their decision can’t be imputed to all women. It doesn’t speak to their politics, as their decision can’t be imputed to all those who believe they adhere to progressive values. It speaks only to these four girls, who lack the intelligence and maturity to not cross the line.
But the inference that can be drawn from this conduct is that the “passions” are out of control, the widespread support for rank emotionalism and the elevation of feelings above all else, bolsters the unduly sensitive to feel a right to engage in harmful conduct against those whose ideas hurt their feelings.
The line between words and conduct is a critical one. I have no expectation that those who share these four girls’ beliefs will take a stance against what they did. They are team players, if nothing else, and will rationalize their vandalism with teary-eyed appeals to emotion. They were just so angry at the hate that they couldn’t control themselves. It’s not their fault. It’s never their fault.
Butwhat can be expected is that the handful of grownups who mold the impressionable minds of these children make clear that they still cannot cross the line between ideas and conduct. No matter how badly words and thoughts hurt their very sensitive souls, they cannot go out in the middle of the night and burn crosses on the lawns of their hated enemies. Not even if they wrap themselves up in the rhetoric of social justice.
Will this happen? We shall see.