A false dichotomy: Peter Schmidt argues ideological exclusion may have protected us from terrorists

In an article published today in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Peter Schmidt responds to the call to stop ideological exclusion, the denial of visa to foreign scholars, writers, etc. based on their political positions. In this article, “Obama Must Tread Fine Line on Scholars Barred From the U.S. for Their Views,” Schmidt warns that stopping this exclusion entirely may be too hasty. He frames the issue as “a tough call for the Obama administration, forcing it to strike a delicate balance between free-speech concerns and the moral and political imperative to keep Americans safe.”

But why tough? Although, as Schmidt writes, idealogical exclusion has kept out Pablo Neruda and Gabriel García Márquez, he continues:

It is important to keep in mind that terrorists do not typically show up at the border announcing plans for murder and mayhem. The government, in trying to determine whether someone poses a threat, has to go by whatever information it has. We’ll never know what an abundance of caution saved us from, or what evil we kept away by locking doors.

This is a false dichotomy. Excluding internationally-recognized scholars, artists, and writers has not protected the United States from terrorist attacks. The government, "go[ing] by whatever information it ha[d]" censored voices that could be critical of the US government. There is no threat to US security in allowing American citizens to discuss and debate issues across a broad spectrum.

Threatening that allowing professionals to speak in the US is equivalent to allowing access to terrorists is a scare tactic. There are many ways to insure the safety of people in America; this rhetoric protects no one.


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Blogging Censorship is where National Coalition Against Censorship staff weigh in on the censorship issues on their minds.
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