Thursday, February 7, 2013

Speaking out

Brooklyn College finds itself today in the middle of a sea of controversy over a forum being held on campus by a group, BDS, calling for boycotts, divestitures and sanctions against Israel for its policies in the occupied territories.

The reaction among elected officials in New York was very predictable. State legislators and city councilmen all called on the school to cancel the forum. Some went so far as to advocate cutting funding to Brooklyn College if it didn't cancel the event. The politicians are upset because someone has the gumption to criticize Israel.

Critics say that the forum will be one-sided because no other group, or individuals, were invited to participate. Well, guess what, media coverage of Israel in this country is extremely one-sided. While these politicians have a problem with the forum, they have no problem with the human rights abuses Israel has committed in the West Bank and Gaza. While they have a problem with free speech, they have no problem with Israel violating international law by encouraging new settlements in the occupied territories.

Maybe these grandstanding politicians should take some time to review the First Amendment. It's a beautiful thing this right to free speech - but it comes with a price. Not all speech is pretty. Not all speech is popular. Some of it, in fact, is downright nasty. That's just the way it works.

Today it's your ox getting gored - tomorrow it'll be someone else's. But we don't get to cherry pick the speech we want to be protected. If we start taking away the right to say something that's unpopular then sooner or later you're going to lose your right to say what's on your mind. And there won't be anyone to fight for you right to say it.

As to the criticism that only one side will be heard, I can only say so what. I went to plenty of events while a student at UT in which two opposing speakers debated each other. The problem is folks go to those events because they agree with one point of view. No one is going in with an open mind. The participants spit out their applause lines and gimmick phrases and the crowds respond like Pavlov's dog.

Colleges and universities are our hottest beds for the free exchange of ideas. That's something that's sadly missing out in the "real" world. And politicians aren't interested in ideas. They are only interested in the views that their pollsters tell them will get them over the hump in the next election. The last thing we need are politicians dictating to colleges what can and can't be taught or debated on their campuses.

If you want an unquestioning and compliant populace, then shut down all debate and force people to conform to the views held by those defending the status quo. But, if you want a vibrant and colorful society, then you've got to loosen up and allow the free flow of ideas to rain down.

H/T Democracy Now!

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