Faisal Saeed Al Mutar founded the Global Secular Humanist Movement and Ideas Beyond Borders. He is an Iraqi refugee, satirist, and human rights activist. He is also a columnist for Free Inquiry. Here, we continue to talk about the meaning of backlash movements.
Jacobsen: So, before, we talked about some issues regarding backlash movements. We don’t want misunderstandings: “backlash” meaning physical violence or destruction of property in the midst of protest rather than peaceful non-violent protests regardless of the issue.
What are some other concerns you may have since the last session we had about some of these “backlash” movements?
Faisal Al Mutar: Thank you for interviewing me. The concern that I have is a continuous one regarding the fact that many movements are rising up right now.
The one we talked about last time about the rise of the Far-Right. It’s happening now that there is less belief in democracy in achieving things and moving more towards an authoritarian rule.
We can hear it in statements by multiple countries around the world with Turkey being one. With China, now, they have a leader who is a “President for life.” In Kenya, which was in a sense a promising democracy, is now sliding towards authoritarianism.
Even countries that have prided itself on being supposedly a beacon for democracy and free speech, like the state of Israel, it is also declining according to Freedom House. That their freedom of the press is declining.
So that’s very worrying. There’s a decline of democracy around the world and the decline of the belief of the values that “built Western Enlightenment.” Like the freedom of speech and right to vote and others, that’s something that really worries us quite a lot.
Jacobsen: What about some responses that one might state that the current “backlash movements,” as you have called them, are more minor issues, where the number of protests, de-platformings, and restrictions on free speech is actually minor if you take into account all 2,600 universities in the United States alone?
So in other words, it’s a matter of numbers. That it’s a fraction of a percent where these kinds of de-platformings and dis-invitations are happening. So, in other words: it’s not pervasive; therefore, it’s not a major concern. Do you have a response?
Al Mutar: Obviously, if somebody plays a numbers game, somebody can make the argument for school shootings or mass shootings compared to the US population. The US population is somewhere around 315 million people, but just because the percentage is low doesn’t mean the concept itself is illegitimate.
That just because some students or some people feel uncomfortable that a speaker is coming to campus that, therefore, this justifies a dis-invitation. Even if it’s a small number, which I’m glad to hear, it’s still a slippery slope that other groups might follow or other places might follow the same trend.
Not just dis-invited, I was nominated to speak and the group rejected that nomination on the fact that some students might feel uncomfortable with my presence. The good news is there was another group that stepped in and said, “We will invite him.”
But the concept that for a speaker to come to the campus and all the students at the campus have to be “comfortable” at the campus is worrying. Regardless if it’s happening on the large scale or small scale, the value itself is dangerous.
It can open a slippery slope for other things to follow the same direction.
Jacobsen: Thank you for your opportunity and your time, Faisal.