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How Self-Censorship Feeds Extremism

In a Columbus Day scandal for the ages, a measured but provocative essay reconsidering the evils of colonialism got the axe a month after its publication. First, critics of Portland State University political science professor Bruce Gilley’s The Case for Colonialism launched a 10,000-signature petition. Then, there were mass resignations from the board at the Third World Quarterly. Next, an apology from the author—and finally, what did it in, per the publisher: serious and credible threats of personal violence…linked to the publication of this essay. From whom, they don’t say. 

The fifteen board members who resigned in protest demanded a retraction of the essay, which they claim failed to meet proper standards: We all subscribe to the principle of freedom of speech and the value of provocation in order to generate critical debate. However, this cannot be done by means of a piece that fails to meet academic standards of rigor and balance by ignoring all manner of violence, exploitation and harm perpetrated in the name of colonialism (and imperialism) and that causes offense and hurt and thereby clearly violates that very principle of free speech.

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