Free speech for ISIS? Anti-terror org says yes

State legislator says ISIS must be allowed to recruit on campus. What does Clarion Project say?

Hillel Fendel ,

ISIS terrorist (illustration)
ISIS terrorist (illustration)

As the Tennessee state legislature considers a bill ensuring the protection of free speech on campus, an anti-terrorism organization said it favors such a bill – even, possibly, for students recruiting for Islamic State (ISIS).

Republican State Representative Martin Daniel this past Thursday introduced a bill he is sponsoring entitled the “Tennessee Student Free Speech Protection Act.” A fellow representative from the Democratic party, John DeBerry, Jr., challenged him by asking whether he supported the right of ISIS to recruit on campus.

Daniel did not hesitate: "Yes,” he replied, "so long as it doesn’t disrupt the proceedings on that campus. Yes sir. They can recruit people for any other organization or any other cause. I think it’s just part of being exposed to differing viewpoints.”

DeBerry disagreed: “There are young people who are not ready yet. They're half-baked, half-cooked, recruited to work against their own parents, their own nation, and I would be concerned as a parent and as a citizen.”

The Clarion Project has taken a surprising stance on this issue. The decade-old Washington, D.C.-based organization explains that it is "an independently funded, non-profit organization dedicated to exposing the dangers of Islamist extremism while providing a platform for the voices of moderation and promoting grassroots activism." It frequently features reports on ISIS atrocities, dangers presented by Iran, human rights abuses, and the like. 

Regarding free speech for ISIS, Clarion says that free speech is "only meaningful if it applies to one’s political enemies as well as one’s friends."

Though it is "vitally important to challenge the Islamist ideology wherever possible and act to prevent radicalization," Clarion writes, "free speech is one of the cornerstones of a flourishing democracy. To give it up in order to combat Islamism – an ideology that wishes to dismantle our way of life - would be to forget what we are fighting for."

Clarion says that existing laws against incitement to violence might not allow ISIS to recruit freely, but the message of those who wish to non-violently establish a global Islamic caliphate and implement sharia law must be allowed to be spread.

Withholding the right to free speech for Islamists would be both unjust and unwise, according to the Clarion Project:

"In denying free speech to Islamists, we would not only betray our own values, but also undermine our struggle. Preventing Islamists from speaking would allow them to claim the mantle of victimhood, while preventing those who are attracted to the ideology from accessing all the counter-arguments against it. We also open ourselves up to accusations of hypocrisy, which would be deserved.

"It is only in allowing them to air their views and robustly countering them, in speech, in print, in media and in debates, that the Islamist ideology will be shown up for the regressive and totalitarian worldview that it is and confined to the dustbin of history where it belongs."