Free speech in an age of identity politics

Kenan Malik in Pandaemonium:

This is a transcript of my TB Davie Memorial lecture that I gave at the University of Cape Town on Thursday 13 August.

Freedom-of-speechIt is truly an honour and pleasure to be able to deliver this lecture, and to be able to follow the speakers who have gone before me, speakers such as Walter Sisulu, Wole Soyinke, Edward Said and Noam Chomsky. It is an honour, too, to be the fiftieth speaker in this great series. But being the fiftieth speaker raises an interesting question: Is there anything left to say about academic freedom that the 49 before me have not already said?

To appreciate why the debate about academic freedom is not yet exhausted, and probably never will be exhausted, we need to understand two points. First, that while there is something special about the academy that requires freedom of speech, there is nothing that should make us privilege academic freedom above other forms of freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is a right, not a privilege. We need to defend academic freedom. But we need to recognize, too, that freedom of expression in the academy is intimately related to freedom of expression more widely in society. Our ability to defend academic freedom is intimately linked to our ability and willingness to defend freedom of expression more widely. So, I will talk today about the academy and academic freedom. But I will talk much more about the wider social context of free speech and the assault upon it.

And second, to defend free speech, whether in the academy or in society more widely, we need to know not simply why freedom of expression is important but also in what ways that freedom is being threatened.

More here.