USC valedictorian earned the right to speak. Let her

In 2022, at the University of Southern California commencement, valedictorian Adam Karelin delivered a stirring poem against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In 2021, valedictorian Tianna Shaw Wakeman spoke of living in a world rife with racial injustice.

In 2020, valedictorian Isabella Hauptman spoke about COVID, which we seem to remember was a bit political. In 2019, valedictorian Ivana Giang spoke about diversity, equity and inclusion.

No one knows what 2024 valedictorian Asna Tabassum’s speech would say. Tabassum says she hadn’t written it yet. But that didn’t stop USC from canceling the address by the pro-Palestinian, Muslim senior who was chosen by a faculty committee from among 200 candidates with very high grade point averages, in a process that’s supposed to honor a student who has made major contributions to the university community, who has submitted a high-quality essay and who can deliver a short, high-quality speech.

USC’s provost, Andrew Guzman, insists that Tabassum is being denied the podium not because of what she might have said, but only because discussion surrounding her selection has “taken on an alarming tenor.” He says it has “nothing to do with freedom of speech” and everything to do with security.

By that standard, if enough people get angry enough about anyone set to speak anywhere on campus, the heckler’s veto will carry the day, and USC, a supposed haven of free inquiry, will be reduced to only inviting those who deliver anodyne remarks about topics that upset no one. (Do such topics still exist?)

No, Tabassum doesn’t like Israel. A group called Trojans for Israel says her social media bio links to “a curated media page” that calls Zionism a “racist settler-colonial ideology” and “advocates for the ‘complete abolishment’ of Israel.” Tabassum advocates for a one-state solution to include Arab Palestinians and Israeli Jews and put an end to the world’s sole Jewish state.

Her position is not anything close to ours, but it’s one she has a right to voice.

For many years now, the right-wing media has insisted that it’s “woke,” “snowflake” left-wingers who engage in “cancel culture” because they can’t stomach hearing challenging ideas, or letting others hear them. Liberals are illiberal, goes the broken-record charge; they’re against freedom.

The College Fix built a database to track what it considered an “assault against freedom of speech and association as well as faith, academic discourse, open inquiry, the arts, unpopular or controversial ideas, and much more.”

There’s no doubt that many if not most conservatives — Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis among them — are more than happy to engage in equally illiberal tactics when it suits their political objectives.

In 2016, then-President Barack Obama delivered the commencement address at Howard University and said: “There’s been a trend around the country of trying to get colleges to disinvite speakers with a different point of view or disrupt a politician’s rally. Don’t do that –– no matter how ridiculous or offensive you might find the things that come out of their mouths. Because as my grandmother used to tell me, every time a fool speaks, they are just advertising their own ignorance. Let them talk. … If you don’t, you just make them a victim.”

Let Asna Tabassum talk.

This editorial first appeared in the New York Daily News. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.