After Milo Yiannopoulos lost a 250,000 book deal and an invitation to CPAC, all media outlets celebrated the fact that he had finally been ejected from a mainstream platform. But is this really good news?
As a liberal French and American reader of The Huffington Post let me first state that I overwhelmingly disagree with almost all of his political positions and I do not intend to defend his views on pedophilia. Instead, I want to talk about the jarring misrepresentation of Milo Yiannopoulos by mainstream media and why this misrepresentation is counterproductive if we want to open a dialogue with young conservatives and bring a more nuanced public debate.
When watching the videos of his campus talks on the Internet I was shocked by the difference between what the media was reporting and what he was saying. He is said to be a racist, a misogynist and a risk to safe speech by most media outlets.
Is Milo racist? The viewing of this video will show that his position is a little more nuanced and comes from his European vision of racial issues (start 51’19). In this video he says that while he agrees with Obama that “the US has not overcome its legacy of racism”, he holds the American left-wing “identity politics” and affirmative action responsible. He argues that racial tensions are less present in Europe where it is often considered that the “welfare state” is a better solution to structural racism. You can politically agree or disagree with him, but he doesn’t imply that one race is superior to the other.
Is Milo a misogynist because he says that “feminism is cancer” ? Again, if you listen to him he explicitly states that he thinks women and men should be equal in rights and opportunity. He says that he disagrees with what he calls “third wave feminism”, which according to him promotes “female supremacy”. Again, you can agree or disagree, but different feminist ideologies do exist and libertarian and liberal feminist scholars like Christina Sommers or Julie Bindel also disagree with the current predominant “third wave feminism”. Some might say that American women also disagree, as only 48% of them “think the feminist movement today is focused on changes they want”.
But why does he have to be so offensive and provocative when he gives his speeches ? Isn’t that “hate speech”? As a French person, he seems to be the conservative version of our controversial satirical journal called Charlie Hebdo. Charlie Hebdo arrived with the May 1968 events in France that sexually liberalized our predominantly Catholic culture and promoted female and gay rights. They used satire, humor and the fierce promotion of free speech to bring these issues to the largely intolerant religious public elite of that time. More recently, talking about Islam was very difficult in France because of the risk of being called Islamophobic. As an atheist journal that questions every religion, Charlie Hebdo opened a debate by making satirical cartoons of Muhammad for which its journalists were literally killed by Islamic terrorists in January 2015. Charlie Hebdo argues that when speech is so policed that certain questions become taboo the most effective response is provocative satire. It challenges the unbreakable commandment for many contemporary liberals that Kenan Malik calles ‘Thou shalt not cause offence.’
A study has recently shown that if young people are now very tolerant towards minorities, they are increasingly intolerant to dissident political opinions and on American campuses these opinions are more frequently liberal. Not conforming to the official opinion on college campuses can therefore be dangerous to your reputation as it was seen with Pr Christakis at Yale University, Pr Peterson at the University of Toronto and more recently with Dr Murray at Middlebury College. In this context of such policing of ideas and speech, humor and provocation may be the only tools available to open discussions and debate.
Finally is outrage and ejection from the mainstream platform effective ? In the age of Internet everyone can create their own platform. Responding with outrage as we have seen last year with Trump and this year with Milo on college campuses emboldens, strengthens and radicalizes extremists and their supporters. Milo was a fringe Internet troll no one knew about before Twitter ejected him from their platform and made him a college campus star. Charlie Hebdo, whose humor is mostly cringe worthy and excessive, was a failing, almost bankrupt, journal before it was attacked. After the attack millions of people around the world said “we are Charlie” and they received international attention and millions of euros.
Bill Maher says that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” To me, in the case of Milo and Tomi Lahren he proved his point. When invited to “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Milo did not look like the impertinent and witty provocateur he is on the stage, he seemed like a vain, narcissistic and shallow person. When confronted by a more informed and intelligent panel, the normally fierce and strong Tomi Lahren just seemed very young and not that bright.
Daryl Davis, an African-American musician that tried to improve racial relations by engaging in conversations with members of the KKK, said that “when two enemies are talking, they’re not fighting.” As extreme as he is, Milo, as a representative of his large following of young conservatives, was exhorting us to have a conversation. A conversation that is vital not only to help us sharpen effective counter arguments but also to help us confront our ideas and adjust them if they need to be. A conversation that could maybe on the long run decrease the level of political intolerance on college campuses.
Milo for now has been ejected from the mainstream platform but his ideas shared by his millions of supporters have not. Because the reporting on him has lacked nuance we leave this media frenzy with little to no progress on the debate around these issues. His supporters still adore him and they have only been confronted to his exaggerations and often dishonest interpretation of factual studies. Coastal liberal readers of mainstream media still cannot understand why he can have so many followers and they can only think that all these followers are racist, transphobic and misogynists (well of course some are, but not all).
We must all become militants of nuance, even with, or should I say especially with provocateurs and controversial subjects like Milo Yiannopoulous.