The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday December 6th

Column: Don't punch 'Neo-Nazis' in the face


Columnist Benji Schwartz

Can I just have a moment of your time and ask a silly question please? I’m just wondering, we can all agree that punching people in the face and not in self-defense is wrong, right? Yes? Good.

Can we also say that about punching white nationalists with a disturbing fondness for Nazi propaganda? No? Well, crap.

I’m referring to an incident this weekend when Richard Spencer, henceforth known as Neo-Nazi(?), was punched during a live interview. I’ll admit it’s a somewhat amusing clip to watch. But it’s wrong.

Practically speaking, glorifying this act of violence normalizes it, and while for now it’s easy to chuckle over Mr. Neo-Nazi(?) being punched in the face, tomorrow when it’s someone you agree with, or, well, you, it may not be such a great thing.

Any time we create a mechanism for silencing someone, we must ask ourselves if we would be okay with that mechanism existing in the hands of someone we disagree with. Also, without Obamacare, I’m sure we can all agree it’s a bad idea to enter potentially injurious situations.

But on a more ideological level and not considering self-preservation, this situation begs the question — would you really want to live in a world where you meet speech with violence?

As a nerdy guy who loves the sound of his own voice (man, wonder why I wanted a column so badly), I don’t.

The ability to communicate is something that goes to the core of a human being. To use a tired cliché, speech is what distinguishes us from animals. To deny people the use of that ability is to then denigrate them to less than human. It is to violently suppress their human dignity.

More important than even that is a truth that we all know — hurting people is wrong, and we shouldn’t do it, unless we have to.

To be fair, that’s the argument many people make — that discourse is fun about films, exhilarating about ideologies and dangerous when the subject is your way of life.

Some of my friends to the left (and, as I found out this election, they exist in droves) may make the valid argument that I can glorify discourse from a comfortable security — that others may need to hurt people for a safety I already enjoy. But there’s a reason I chose to talk about Mr. Neo-Nazi(?).

In case my name wasn’t a give-away, I am a Jew. When Mr. Spencer is asking whether Jews are humans, he’s asking about me. And for the idiots in the room, yes, we are.

What I’m trying to say here is, when you punch a Nazi (not a phrase I expected to write), you’re not doing it for me.

And to be clear, punching Spencer doesn’t do anything — you can pummel a Nazi, but not anti-Semitism. If there is a way to beat out that kind of ideology, it’s going to have to come from words.

And while words are not guaranteed to stop an insane ideology, they’ll do a much better job than your fists.


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