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Saturday, January 31, 2004

As both of you who regularly read this blog may recall, The Daughter is attending college.

What follows is something she wrote in response to an incident in her dorm. OK, I helped a little. I was proud to. It's kind of long, but that's because she's my daughter.

I am an American.

I was born a citizen of this country, with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities that come along with being one. I have had the privilege of growing up in a household that provided numerous opportunities that many people would normally not receive. I had the option of perusing religions, of expressing my mind freely and independently, to choose my activities, receive a free education, and travel, for the most part, uninhibited from oppressive individuals. I grew up free.

Part of growing up free, as I learned over the years, is to accept people for who they are. It is the content of their character that matters, not the color of their skin or how much money their family has, or where their father or their great great great grandmother came from, or what part of town they live in, or whether they have the latest music. Those things may partly determine what they are, but not who they are. The what, I’ve noticed, is generally not self-determined. As Americans, we are allowed to freely, and candidly express ourselves. Censorship is entirely foreign to us. This is not true in much of the world. However, with this unusual freedom, comes the obligation of acknowledging the freedom of others to think and say as they choose. We all have opinions, and we are all specifically obligated to acknowledge that the opinions of other people are their own business, no matter how much we may dislike or disagree with them.

As a result of recent events, I have sadly realized that not everyone shares this tolerance for the beliefs and opinions of others. That’s too bad, because I think that in order for me to keep the freedoms I benefit from, I must protect those same freedoms for everyone else. This is true no matter how much I dislike, or even loathe their ideas, and maybe even because I dislike their ideas. I thought that this was a given in our country. After all, one of the most famous quotes from Voltaire is “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Voltaire died in 1778, right while the American Revolution was going on. He might have been a little overdramatic, but this was one of the principals over which Americans fought that revolution.

But it appears that we need to relearn this lesson every once in a while, and it seems that now is one of those times. There are individuals out there, who are willing to go to great lengths to tear down, and morally degrade others who do not agree with their particular point of view. This was my personal introduction to censorship by the anonymous speech police.

On Monday, January 26th, 2003, a debate about the Iraq War was held out in the hallways. While there was strong anti-war support, there were a few individuals, such as myself, who believed the war was justified. Those individuals, who believed that there was such justification, were badgered, and silenced by one person, because their opinions differed from her own. Even those who unsuccessfully tried to moderate the discussion were criticized viciously for having done so.

Because I was not allowed to openly say my piece, I expressed myself in an alternative form- writing. I put a three page paper on my door (largely derived from the online journal, “USS Clueless”) [Stephen denBeste -ed.] that for the most part, outlined, why I believed that there was a need to remove Saddam, and the Baathist party in Iraq; and also reform sects of the Arab culture (such as the Wahabi) that have long supported terrorism by all means. These three pages have caused quite a stir on the hall. So much so that:

· someone removed the three pages from my door

· I have been called (possibly by the same person who removed the paper from my door) a racist, a fascist

· those who stuck by me were repeatedly vilified for doing so.

I have reposted my opinion on my door, only to have it torn down again and again. I have some information and some questions for the person who is doing this.

I am not a racist. If you think something in what I said shows otherwise, have the courage of your convictions. Tell me what it is. To my face. And be specific. Until you do, I will continue to believe that your purpose in doing so is to simply prevent me from stating my opinions. And don’t sneak around while I am not here and remove stuff from my door. It’s my door, not yours.

And what possible bearing does my supposed racism have on whether or not someone else should support the war in Iraq? The short answer is that one thing has nothing to do with the other. For what its worth, this has been a favorite tactic of people who want to avoid debating the actual issues facing them. Joseph McCarthy used it extensively in the 1950s. To end any discussion, all McCarthy had to do was accuse someone of being a communist. It was easy, because no evidence was required. And it worked for a while. But McCarthy’s political career ended in disgrace, and his behavior shamed the entire country. Your behavior is also shameful, but on a much smaller scale. I think you already know that, or you wouldn’t be doing it anonymously.

If you believe that the reasons I support the war in Iraq are racist, you are simply wrong.

Yes, I think Saddam Hussein was a genuinely bad guy, that he posed a threat to the US, and that in the aftermath of 9/11, we simply could no longer afford to wait and let him strike us first before we fought back. Do you think Saddam Hussein wasn’t a bad guy? Tell that to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who got “disappeared” by his government. Or the people he fed into industrial plastic shredders. Or the 5000 Kurds who died in Saddam’s gas attack on Halabja. Or the millions of Iranians and Iraqis who died in the entirely pointless Iran/Iraq War. Do you think the fact that he paid the families of suicide bombers $25,000 each makes him eligible for sainthood? Or maybe you think that we should have let Saddam continue to develop missiles capable of striking our ships in the Mediterranean and our forces in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar, and then only attack him after he verifiably killed Americans. I don’t think we should use the Army, much less an American city, as bait. And that doesn’t even get into the nuclear, chemical or biological weapons issues.

Yes, I think that Arab culture, which has exactly zero representative democracies, and which horribly oppresses women and gay men, needs some serious reform. You disagree? Do you think a culture which will not permit a woman to leave the house without being accompanied by a male family member is good? Do you think that a culture which will not permit a woman to drive, or hold a job, or paint their nails, or listen to the music of their choice, or, in some cases, any music at all, is good? Do you think a culture which won’t let kids fly kites is good? (KITES for God’s sake!) Do you think a culture which routinely refers to adherents of a different religion as “pigs” and “monkeys” is good? Do you think a culture in which a debate by the people at the highest levels of government is whether gay men should be killed by being thrown off a tall building or killed by having a wall pushed over on them is good? Do you think a culture in which thieves are punished by having their hands chopped off is good? Do you believe that a culture in which a woman can be stoned to death for adultery because she was raped, but can’t get three male witnesses to say so, is good?

More importantly, do you think that believing that such things must be changed is racist? Why? Is it because you think Arab women like being oppressed? Or is it because you think the Arabs are so stupid that they cannot help but do the things listed above or that Arabs are “not ready” for democracy? Remind me again: Who exactly is the racist here? It’s not for us to change them, you say? If not us, then who? And if not following an unprovoked and vicious attack that killed 3000 people on our soil, then when?

I see all sorts of achievements from lots of places in the last three or five hundred years. And the rate at which those achievements are occurring is accelerating. New and better machines. New drugs. New books. New ideas. Space stations. Robots on Mars. Cars that get 70 miles per gallon. REAL ELECTIONS. Advances in medicine, science, music, politics, philosophy. Freedom of religion. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. The abolition of slavery (still practiced to some extent in Sudan). Progress on civil rights. Progress on women’s rights. Progress on gay rights. I left out tons of stuff that I know of and I’m sure there is even more that I don’t know about. The list is absolutely endless. No, America isn’t perfect. It never will be because it is inhabited by mere humans. But how many achievements, whether inventions or discoveries, and how much progress made during of the last half millennium came from Arab culture and how much came from somewhere else? I don’t deny that before, say, 1500, the Arabs led the western world in science, art, architecture and probably a lot of things that I don’t know about. But the dominant culture in Arab countries today did not exist then. It does now and in my opinion it is dysfunctional and actually preventing the kind of achievements that make my freedom possible. Am I wrong? Give me an example. I don’t ask for much. I don’t need an Arab space program, or an Arab equivalent of Thomas Jefferson or Thomas Edison or Stephen Hawkings. One significant invention. One significant achievement. And the Arabs didn’t even invent the suicide bomber, if you think that might be significant. The Japanese used kamikazes during World War II.

You think I’m a fascist? You apparently wouldn’t recognize a fascist if one bit you on the ass. The Baath Party in Iraq was pretty much a classic fascist movement, and so is the radical Islamist movement. If only you would wake up, you would see that war against the Baathist and radical Islamist movements, in Afghanistan exactly as in Iraq, is war against fascism. Being in favor of war against fascists makes me a fascist? Right. And if you believe that, maybe you’d be interested in the purchase of the Brooklyn Bridge. I can get you a helluva deal on it.

Back to my opinions. Tearing down the papers from my door and calling me a racist and a fascist are actions clearly intended to prevent me from stating my opinions. What is it about those opinions that makes you so afraid to discuss them rationally and calmly? (And in person.) What is it about them that makes you sneak around the dorm saying things about me behind my back that you won’t say to my face? Is it that you believe that I will be able to convince others that my position is right? If you are not afraid of that, why go to such extraordinary lengths to prevent me from expressing my opinions?

Or is it that there can only be one opinion: Yours, which no one can dare to question.

In removing my statement from my door, you have deprived every one of the residents of the dorm of our basic right to freedom of speech. You decided that YOUR personal opinion was so much more important than mine that mine should not even be read by those who chose to stop and read it. And in removing that statement, you told the rest of the people here, at least some of whom will disagree with me, that they are apparently too stupid to even be exposed to such dangerous stuff as this.

You seem to lack maturity, and courage of your convictions. The very fact that you have not claimed responsibility for your actions reeks of cowardice. If you had any principles at all, you would have invited discussion, not prevented it. You would have discussed the matter calmly, without name calling and personal attacks. You would have discussed it openly, without trying to hide behind a curtain of anonymity.

I have said my piece, and while some may not agree with me, and some might, you certainly haven’t convinced me or anyone else of anything by trying to prevent honest and open debate. You can’t win a debate by avoiding one. I don’t expect apologies, or any insurrections in my name to occur. But I do hope to avoid being falsely accused of racism. I also hope that you come to realize that we are all entitled to have our opinions. You might disagree with me, but I think everyone in this country, whether citizens or not, has an obligation to safeguard our first amendment freedoms by allowing each individual to have their say, even though we may disagree with it.

Unless you don’t care about your own freedom, in which case, you have my sympathy.

UPDATE: A debate has started over at VodkaPundit about the reference to McCarthy. More on that here.

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