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Free Speech Struggles To Survive In U.S. and Europe

Elizabeth Wright is an African-American writer and editor of the Issues & Views Magazine and blog. Her articles were also published in Issues & Views.


8-13-2007

Unfortunately, there are always more updates to be done on the victims of Europe's "hate crime" laws. In the last Commentary, The insidious chilling of debate, "thought criminals" David Irving and Ernst Zundel were awaiting their fates in German and Austrian jail cells. As you know, in December, Austria freed Irving, and in February, Germany sentenced Zundel to five years in prison. The 67-year-old Zundel has been incarcerated [for more than] four years for the "crime" of publicly disputing the official version of Holocaust history.

Also, in the grand democracy of Germany, Germar Rudolf is on trial for a report he authored in 1993 questioning, after his own examinations and research, the accepted, "official" account of the gas chambers in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Rudolf, a chemist and former doctoral candidate at the Max Planck Institute, (?) had all his property confiscated by the German government, which also demands he pay 55% of all money earned on the sale of his books about his research, since they are now considered "illegal." [He has been sentenced to 30 months in prison]

Here in Free Speech USA, New York University historian Tony Judt is getting his come-uppance for having the temerity to think he can give lectures and write articles about Middle East issues when his perspectives differ from those of The Lobby--that is, The Lobby that does not exist.

Like others, such as Amos Elon, Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Richard Cohen, Tony Kushner and Israel Shamir--all of whom criticize the United States's biased support of Israeli policies--Professor Judt is learning that there is a special hell reserved for his ilk. Representatives from that hell follow you around, hunt you down, and single-mindedly work to sabotage your every effort at dissent.

After Abraham Foxman of B'nai Brith's Anti-Defamation League got on the case, Judt's scheduled talk last October at the Polish consulate in New York was canceled. The Washington Post quotes the Polish Consul General describing phone calls he received from the ADL and the American Jewish Committee: "The phone calls were very elegant but may be interpreted as exercising a delicate pressure." Another speech, scheduled at the Bronx's Manhattan College, was also canceled under pressure. Explained the Hebrew Institute's Rabbi Avi Weiss, who was responsible for bringing about the cancellation: "Being anti-Israel is essentially being anti-Jewish." And that's that. Subject closed.

As the issuers of death threats and the torchers of homes and libraries constantly remind us, when mocking the First Amendment, "You have the right to try to be heard, but you don't have the right to be heard."

It was encouraging, for a while, back in March 2006, just after publication of the paper, "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," by Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, to experience a wave of hope. Even though the paper, authored by the two Americans, was published and placed online by a London magazine (an American magazine having chickened out), the knowledge that it was being distributed throughout the U.S., and could not be annihilated like Dixie Chicks CDs, made some of us feel like we lived in a free country, after all. (A working version of the paper is on the Harvard University website.)

But, let's face it, we knew the light couldn't last. When The Lobby (that does not exist) can interfere with the elections of members of Congress, can prevent books from being published, can directly intervene in the workings of governments in foreign countries, there is little hope that the light will last for long. Former President Jimmy Carter is learning about that right now. The publication of Carter's book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, brought the hounds running in his direction. Fortunately, the would-be censors could not prevent the book's release.

However, the hounds have found other ways to "Get Carter," as writer Chris Hedges titled an article on the subject. After Carter spoke in a forum about the Middle East, at Brandeis University, pressure by the Usual Suspects was brought to bear on some of the University's wealthiest donors, as implied in The Jewish Week (2/16/07). A current Brandeis trustee reported on "a fair number of donors who have indicated they will withhold contributions." And, joining those with concerns, no doubt, for their future careers and/or financial welfare, 15 members of the Carter Center's advisory board resigned.

Yet, as bad as it looks, what with people running to put distance between themselves and the ostracized Carter, author Philip Weiss, writing for The American Conservative magazine (2/26/07), sees a silver lining. He reports not only on the thousands of copies of the book that have been sold, but on the fact that many months after publication, it is still on the New York Times bestseller list. Weiss thinks that greater numbers of Americans finally are seeking to educate themselves on this hot topic, instead of depending on the usual media sources. (His article offers a first hand, eyewitness account on the forum at Brandeis University.)

So far, in this country, the government is not officially in on the censorship game of banning the publication and sale of particular books. However, with the success of a federal "hate crime" law, the door might be opened to such a possibility.

In countries where citizens are imprisoned on "Holocaust denial" statutes and "incitement to racial (or gender) hatred" laws, for expressing unpopular opinions, such enforcement began with so-called hate crime legislation. Although certain interest groups have managed to get "hate crime" laws passed in several states of the U.S., attempts to pass national legislation have failed up until now. Today, the latest bill, H.R. 254, sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas, is working its way towards passage in the House of Representatives.

New York sets a precedent

On another free speech front, in New York, the City Council has set a precedent by symbolically "banning" the public use of a word. The word, of course, is "Nigger." What else? What other word is so ubiquitous that New Yorkers have grown inured to its intrusion into their daily lives? And what could be more ironic than the fact that it is blacks who cannot restrain themselves from using the word and are primarily to blame for extending its life in the popular lexicon?

As non-blacks sought to distance themselves from the epithet, blacks picked up the word and sanctified it. Since the Council's resolution against use of the word has no legal weight, it is meaningless. As it should be. The question is why anyone other than blacks should be bothered with this nonsense. Why should government time be taken up with moralizing over an abusive term, when the targets of the term embrace it to varying degrees? And why should government be toying with passing resolutions to ban words--even symbolically?

Contrary to media claims of a generational gap, where only young blacks overuse the word, among many older blacks, the term "Nigger" is a deepseated cultural norm. Throughout their lives, they have grown used to identifying the "good" blacks from the "bad" ones--and the bad ones are generally labeled "Niggers." Don't blame it on the young, Mr. Cosby.

In "NYC To Be 'Nigger'-Free Zone," the gay website Queerty.com has fun mocking the ridiculous resolution: "If the council's all about cleaning up people's politically incorrect potty mouths, where are the bans on spic, faggot, kike, chink and all those other nasties? Also, if nigger's banned, where does that leave negro?"

Where, indeed?

By the way "all those other nasties" are generally terms spewed forth by blacks, more often than by members of any other group.



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