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"Wharton's Modi move augurs 'dark days' for plurality of views"

Washington: The prestigious Wharton India Forum's flip-flop last year over an invitation to Narendra Modi reflects “dark days” for intellectual diversity on American campuses, a top US official has said.“These are dark days for intellectual
PTI November 23, 2014 20:26 IST
PTI

Washington: The prestigious Wharton India Forum's flip-flop last year over an invitation to Narendra Modi reflects “dark days” for intellectual diversity on American campuses, a top US official has said.

“These are dark days for intellectual diversity on campuses. The number of speakers who have been formally disinvited from speaking on college campuses or have voluntarily withdrawn in the face of protests has risen dramatically over the past 15 year,” Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Ajit Pai said.

In his keynote address to the Media Institute Awards last week, he lamented: “In just the last couple of years, that list includes former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, IMF Chair Christine Lagarde, former World Bank President Robert Zoellick, now-Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and women's rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali.”

The University of Pennsylvania-based-forum had cancelled the then Gujarat Chief Minister's address in March last year apparently under pressure from anti-Modi groups for his alleged inaction to prevent the 2002-Gujarat riots.

Sharply Critical of growing intolerance of opposition views, Pai invoked Michael Bloomberg who had said early this year at Harvard that this trend “is an outrage and we must not let it continue.”

“And more generally,” he continued, “repressing free expression is a natural human weakness, and it is up to us to fight it at every turn.”

The Commissioner cautioned that intolerance of ideas— whether liberal or conservative—is antithetical to individual rights and free societies.

“Mayor Bloomberg was right,” he added.

“Freedom's protection demands a cultural commitment, not just cold parchment. Whether in the halls of academia or at the FCC's headquarters, we must not let censorship and conformity— what he (Bloomberg) called ‘the mortal enemies of freedom'- win,” he said.

He assured to protect freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

“The past few months have shown that the American people treasure and will defend the First Amendment. That means we can win these battles so long as government overreach is exposed to the light of day,” he said.

“I've found myself wondering recently, why are they occurring ? Unfortunately, an increasing number of people have little tolerance for hearing ideas that differ from their own,” he said.

“As Bill Bishop, the author of ‘The Big Sort' has put it, “America may be more diverse than ever coast to coast, but the places where we live are becoming increasingly crowded with people who live, think, and vote like we do.”,  he said.

He rued there is a growing correlation between a person's politics and where they choose to get news and information from.

About one-quarter of Facebook users have hidden, blocked, defriended, or stopped following someone based on disagreements over political posts, he added.