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Farrakhan's right to speak at Berkeley event is defended

March 11, 2012 | 10:49 am

An appearance by controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan at UC Berkeley raised some hackles, but University of California President Mark G. Yudof issued a statement defending Farrakhan's right to speak.

Farrakhan, whose critics have called him anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic, spoke at Berkeley on Saturday during an Afrikan Black Coalition Conference organized by the Black Student Union.

About 350 students signed an online petition against his appearance, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, but Farrakhan spoke to a packed auditorium of nearly 700.

The Chronicle and Daily Californian reported that Farrakhan stuck largely to themes of black empowerment in his speech, but there were some uncomfortable moments when he made derogatory comments about Jews and at one point "adopted a faux Asian accent and used gibberish" while talking about the Chinese.

In a statement issued after the speech, Yudof wrote: “Louis Farrakhan is a provocative, divisive figure with a long history of racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic speech. It was distressing in the extreme that a student organization invited him to speak on the UC Berkeley campus.

“But, as I have said before, we cannot, as a society or as a university community, be provoked by hurtful speech to retreat from the cherished value of free speech.”

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-- Abby Sewell

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