Three months ago, riots broke out at the University of California at Berkeley over a planned talk by the provocative journalist Milo Yiannopoulos. Last month the outspoken polemicist Ann Coulter cancelled her planned talk on that campus after the university said it couldn't guarantee her safety.
I was invited to Berkeley last week to talk about the Arab-Israel conflict at its Hillel centre for Jewish students. In the light of the uproar over controversial speakers, however, Hillel decided it was too dangerous for me to speak there. So I was disinvited.
I ended up speaking with no advertising or publicity in a "safe house" to which students were invited individually. In effect, they had to be coaxed to venture out. This is because reaction against pro-Israel speakers on campus is now so violent that many Jewish students at Berkeley are too frightened to attend any such presentations.
I'm in America on a speaking tour, talking to a variety of groups about the assorted political convulsions taking place throughout both the West and the Middle East.
In the US, one campus after another is now being dragged into a spiral of violence, intimidation and censorship. When Heather MacDonald, a distinguished academic and critic of Black Lives Matter, tried to speak at Claremont McKenna College in California last month students ringed the building, chanting abuse and banging on the windows. She eventually fled through the kitchen into a police van outside. At Middlebury College in Vermont in March a professor was admitted to hospital after being attacked when she tried to shield the social scientist Charles Murray, the author of a study on racial differences in intelligence, who was being driven out of a lecture hall by a violent mob.
According to a survey by "Spiked" magazine, more than nine out of 10 British universities restrict free speech in some way, clamping down on ideas, literature or guest speakers that fall foul of one shibboleth or another. The Wall Street Journal reported that in a survey of 800 US college students, 51% supported speech codes. Dozens of people invited to speak on campus have had their invitations withdrawn or their presentations disrupted, while university staff have been harassed with accusations of racism, micro-aggression or cultural insensitivity.
Overall responsibility for this anarchy rests with faculty members and university authorities. Many universities have stopped being crucibles of reason and knowledge and turned instead into ideological battlegrounds on which protected groups promoting the demonisation of white society or other presumed "oppressors" suppress any challenge to their dogma.
University authorities have actively assisted the culture of zero tolerance for opposing views. Lecturers have been disciplined for teaching ideas that fall foul of prevailing orthodoxies. Universities have cravenly given in to violence and intimidation. On many US campuses students are limited to small "free speech zones" in which to exercise the right to express their views. Failure to observe the limits of such zones can result in disciplinary action and even arrest.
In 2013 Robert Van Tuinen, a Modesto Junior College student and free speech activist, was stopped from handing out copies of the US constitution by both campus security and a college official because he was outside a "free speech area".
Two weeks ago Rabbi Daniel Lapin, who had been invited to speak about the morality of capitalism at Canada college, Redwood, California, was shouted down by protesters against "white supremacy". Although some college officials were present they reportedly refused to act. Many university authorities claim they cannot intervene because they must protect protesters' freedom of speech. Such protests, however, are obviously aimed at silencing speech: university authorities are protecting instead censorship and thuggery.
No less disturbing is the associated suspension of justice and due process. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, on many US campuses those accused of the dissemination of prohibited ideas face "kangaroo courts" in which the political viewpoint or institutional interests of the "judges" twist the outcomes of these disciplinary proceedings.
While refusing to act against student thugs on the grounds of freedom of speech, universities seem to have no such reservations in acting against teachers or students who offend against prevailing orthodoxies.
In their book The Shadow University: the Betrayal of Liberty on America's Campuses, Alan Kors and Harvey Silverglate write that the "shadow university" hands students a "moral agenda upon arrival" and subjects them to "mandatory political re-education". Free and unfettered debate has been replaced by "censorship, indoctrination, intimidation, official group identity and group-think".
After the Heather MacDonald debacle, when the president of a neighbouring college criticised those protesters on the grounds that a university was
"founded upon the discovery of truth, the collaborative development of knowledge and the betterment of society",
a group of his own students retorted that "objectivity" was a white supremacist myth. Who can be surprised?
The universities have steadily replaced education by the enforcement of dogma and then washed their hands of the intolerant results. The loss of freedom on campus is nothing less than the eclipse of reason, intellectual integrity and moral spine.