Yes, our own freedom of speech is in danger when we remain silent as government silences those with whom we disagree.
Ask many conservatives, and they will likely tell you that the left is silencing opposition – in classrooms, lecture halls, and the public square. While that often is the case, it seems that the right is living in its own glass house, when it comes to this kind of behavior. A couple cases have been hitting headlines recently, and they should be causing alarm on all sides – but they aren’t.
The first is the case of Jeremy Rothe-Kushel being arrested in a Kansas City library for the offense of asking difficult questions on Israel during a public lecture. Washington Institute for Near East Policy Fellow Dennis Ross was speaking on Israel and U.S. relations, and Rothe-Kushel had hard questions for him. The end result was that Rothe-Kushel and a member of the library staff ended up being arrested, and the Kansas City police department is left with a controversial case that just isn’t going away.
This wouldn’t be so disturbing if Rothe-Kushel had been combative in any way – he wasn’t, and even said he would leave if asked. No one asked him to leave, since they were too busy forcibly removing him. It definitely doesn’t help that it has since come to light that one of the off-duty officers involved in the “security” detail had “counter-terror” training, in Israel.
The primary problem with all of this is that apparently the security guards who were present at this event didn’t believe that Ross, supposedly a distinguished scholar, could defend his own positions. There was never any physical threat from Rothe-Kushel, who had been searched more thoroughly than other attendees before the event started. This was about protecting an ideologue from having to answer questions regarding the nature of Israel’s policy toward Arabs within the occupied territories. Rothe-Kushel had the nerve to suggest that Israel might be guilty of using terrorist tactics, which if the officers were honest, would be the real charge made against him.
Like any other issue, the way Israel deals with Arabs is not a black and white matter – it definitely resides in a gray area. While it is true that radicals in the occupied territories use tunnels into Israel and Egypt to move arms and personnel for the purpose of carrying out acts of terror, that is not the primary purpose of the tunnels. The majority of the subterranean passages are created for commerce, since there is a severe embargo preventing goods from being brought into the territories. Palestinians obtain the vast majority of what they need and want (mostly need) on the black market, and the black marketeers are the ones who typically dig the tunnels. Not terrorists. The terrorists often force the black marketeers to allow them to use the tunnels – they acquiesce, since the alternative is usually death.
No doubt, Ross also wouldn’t want to answer questions about the level of destruction and desperation Gazans experience on a daily basis, thanks to Egypt and Israel. Once someone wraps their head around the concept that even many basic food items must be smuggled into the Gaza Strip, it becomes clear why terrorists find it easy to get even a slight amount of popular support from the civilians there. Anything that offers even the slightest bit of hope that they can have more than they do now is appealing. That is what Rothe-Kushel wanted addressed in that lecture, but his thinking was so dangerous that the security guards present felt that he needed to be jailed.
Unfortunately, that is not an isolated incident, as we’ve been seeing headlines about protesters in North Dakota being arrested. Thankfully, at least in the case of journalist Amy Goodman from Democracy Now!, a judge has thrown out riot charges. The protest is called “Dakota Access,” and the bone of contention is over a pipeline that is planned to go through Native American held land.
People on the right probably will be quick to point out the environmentalists involved in the protest, which is fine. That doesn’t address the issues that the Sioux Nation has with the planned pipeline. To place it in proper perspective, consider what would happen if an oil company proposed a pipeline in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The planned track of that pipeline would lead right through Arlington National Cemetery. Needless to say, the uproar from all sides would be impossible to overcome. But, when it comes to the Sioux Nation, apparently what they hold sacred is not as meaningful as what our government does.
No matter what, we still have a right to assemble peacefully, don’t we? There is no reason for law enforcement to be rounding up protesters in the double digits daily in North Dakota. Those people have a right to be heard, period. Or have we ceased to be a free nation? That freedom doesn’t mean “you’re free to protest, as long as I agree with you.” More importantly, the rights to free speech and assembly must be defended, especially in cases where those defending it definitely don’t agree. That is the real cost and responsibility of freedom. If you cannot defend the rights of someone who believes in what you would fight against with every fiber of your being, you should not expect anyone else to defend your rights. No matter what, as a nation, we need to address the issue of using government might to silence opposition, wherever we see it. That includes Kansas City and North Dakota.