Author: Mohamed Ali

What Defenders and Critics Get Wrong about the ‘Marketplace of Ideas’

In his book How Fascism Works, Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley exposes the weakness in the most common argument for free speech. According to this argument, which can be traced back to liberal thinkers such as John Stuart Mill, free speech leads to a “marketplace of ideas” in which the truth prevails and falsehoods are widely rejected. Stanley argues that the recent proliferation of conspiracy theories and dog-whistles refute the premise that “reason always wins out in the public square of liberal democracy.” He is primarily concerned about conspiracy theories, such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which serve to spread fascistic worldviews. This type of speech, he concludes, cannot be effectively countered through a free exchange of ideas. The motif of the marketplace of ideas, Stanley argues, only works with descriptive speech. Descriptive speech occurs when words are communicated precisely in their logical or semantic sense. The paradigmatic example is of scientists engaged in an exchange where words have precise and agreed meanings. Non-descriptive speech, by contrast, is exemplified by rhetoric, such …

Prescriptive Racialism and Racial Exclusion

The crowd outside the auditorium was growing larger and louder. Controversy had arisen over the “Panel on Religious Extremism in the Middle East” that I had organized at my University. A petition to cancel the event in the wake of the horrific New Zealand massacre had been circulated among the student body during the previous week, forcing my co-organizers and me to defend ourselves against accusations of Islamophobia. Months of work had gone into the event, and I had even managed to secure funding for the speakers, on the condition that the event went ahead. At that moment, it looked like I was going to fail. The Students for Democratic Society were protesting and they spooked the president of College Republicans who was now considering cancelling it. Finally, one of our panellists—an Imam—managed to persuade the College Republican president to go ahead. Despite the constant heckling during the speakers’ remarks and the Q&A session that followed, the event did finally proceed more or less as planned. The panel and I addressed the New Zealand atrocity and explicitly …