Carnegie Mellon was wrong to say it did not condone a controversial tweet by one of its professors wishing “excruciating” pain on the dying Queen Elizabeth II, MSNBC columnist Zeeshan Aleem claimed on Saturday.
On Thursday, Buckingham Palace announced that Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning monarch in the country, passed away peacefully in her sleep at age 96. Before the announcement was made, there was talk of the Queen’s health taking a turn for the worst. While many people expressed sorrow, some progressive figures attacked both the Queen and the monarchy.
Professor Uju Anya viciously attacked the Queen in a tweet that was later deleted by Twitter for violating rules on abusive behavior.
“I heard the chief monarch of a thieving raping genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating,” Anya tweeted.
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After the tweet went viral, the university released a statement that distanced itself from Anya’s tweet while defending her right to free speech.
“We do not condone the offensive and objectionable messages posted by Uju Anya today on her personal social media account. Free expression is core to the mission of higher education, however, the views she shared absolutely do not represent the values of the institution, nor the standards of discourse we seek to foster,” the statement read.
According to Aleem, however, that statement should not have been made.
“Universities almost never issue statements like this because the very premise of a university is to serve as a bastion of independent thinking and provide a forum for intellectual free-for-alls. A university would never be presumed to endorse any of its scholars’ individual beliefs, which is key for academia as a space for provocation to thrive. So in effect, this statement was a condemnation and implicitly a signal to other academics at the university that they should watch their mouth on certain matters. While the motivation behind the unusual statement is unclear, it underscores how vulnerable public intellectuals are to controversy-driven social media pile-ons,” Aleem wrote.
While Aleem claimed that he does not “approve” of Anya’s original tweet, he defended her position from a historical perspective and as a scholar.
“But what’s undeniable is that it stems from a place of personal hurt and political opposition to the imperial history and legacy of the British monarchy. Even if one found Anya’s statement distasteful, it’s also critical to recognize how distasteful the whitewashing of the British empire has been in the official British narratives celebrating Elizabeth’s life. Beneath the comment about suffering, Anya’s tweet stakes out a position on politics and history, something scholars are expected to do,” he wrote.
He also criticized the university for distancing itself from the professor’s tweet while claiming to support freedom of speech.
“Carnegie Mellon felt the need to distance itself from this, and it’s not clear why. Anya’s tweet and some of her responses to the pile-on could be described as rude or mean-spirited, but scholars and thinkers of all kinds are rude or mean-spirited all the time — and often while defending heinous ideas. And yet these exchanges, whether online or in some other form of public correspondence, don’t typically elicit condemnations from the universities that employ them,” Aleem argued.
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In January, the Georgetown University Law Center put its incoming executive director of the Georgetown Center for the Constitution under “investigation” and on administrative leave for a tweet that criticized President Biden’s pledge to only consider a Black woman for the Supreme Court. It does not appear Aleem has written about this incident.
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Although Aleem insisted on defending Anya’s right to defend “heinous ideas,” MSNBC was one of many media organizations that have fretted about too much “free speech” on Twitter.
Several MSNBC anchors have claimed that GOP arguments to defend free speech are mostly made to defend White supremacists.