Freedom of Speech*(*Conditional, of course)

In Muslim culture, they greet one another in this way.

 “As-salaam Alaykum,” meaning “Peace be upon you” and answered by “wa ʿalaykumu s-salām” meaning “and peace be upon you too.” (Apologies if I got the spelling wrong)

What’s wrong with that? Almost sounds Christian.

In the America of today, using such a greeting might prompt a visit from the FBI when your fellow Americans suspect you of being a terrorist. We fear the unfamiliar despite our claims of embracing all colors, creeds, and cultures.

Freedom is relative in America these days. While most Americans support Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion, many attach a condition to these cherished rights.

Look to the headlines and the evidence of conditional toleration is everywhere.

Opinion pieces are rife regarding the newest members of Congress, Muslims. Where is the religious toleration and why is their religion significant? I mean what could happen next, Atheists? Religious toleration only goes so far, we tolerate Christian faiths, perhaps even Jews-but not too many, you know what happens when they take over-but Muslims? There goes the neighborhood.

We can’t have it.

Freedom of religion, as enshrined in the Constitution, is unambiguous. The 4000 plus religions in the world are free to practice their faith as long as they harm no one or refuse to tolerate the different religious practices of others.

Simple, right? It would seem not. Intermixed with Freedom of Religion, which includes Freedom from Religion, is Freedom of Speech.

Once again there is a difference between what we say, or point to in the Constitution, and what we practice in our daily lives. Professional athletes take a knee to highlight persisting racism within this county and we rebuke, threaten, and call them un-American.

What is more American than taking a stand to right a wrong? What is more emblematic of American courage than to stand against evil? But even if you disagree with their method, which I found ineffectual, you must support their right to such expression.

If you argue that everyone must stand for the National Anthem out of some sense of respect for the hard-fought freedoms most of us enjoy, you’ve missed the point.

Being a product of the 60s, I lived through the years of violent antiwar protests, antigovernment upheavals, and civil rights riots. My parents’ generation looked on those protesters as un-American. Yet President Lyndon Johnson saw the need for sweeping civil rights legislation, the Great Society, to right many wrongs highlighted by the protests.

Despite Dr. Martin Luther King’s plea for nonviolence, decades of rage over racial disparity coupled with an ill-conceived and unnecessary war in Viet Nam drove the country to the boiling point.

Yet we survived.

Today, conditional toleration threatens Freedom of Speech. We need zealously guard free expression, even when we find ourselves in complete disagreement with the message.

Think about this for a moment. During the war in Viet Nam, many considered antiwar protesters to be anti-American. If that’s the case, then to be pro-American is to be Pro-War? Such sentiments carried over to the endless conflict in Iraq.

I find that opposing war is un-American to be false on its face. Americans should fight only when necessary and vigorously oppose policies to the contrary. Had such a philosophy existed in 1954, when American military advisers first went to South Viet Nam, 56,000 more Americans might be enjoying their freedoms.

To be American is to hold a wide variety of political, religious, and cultural perspectives. To be American is to accept differences in others and work together for the benefit of all.

If we want to set standards for the religion or speech we will tolerate, it is a slippery slope to losing our freedoms.

Look to the headlines and the evidence of conditional tolerance is everywhere.

Opinion pieces are rife with references to the newest members of Congress, Muslims. Where is the religious tolerance and why is their religion significant? I mean what could happen next, Atheists? Religious tolerance only goes so far, we tolerate Christian faiths, perhaps even Jews-but not too many, you know what happens when they take over-but Muslims? There goes the neighborhood.

We just can’t have it.

Freedom of religion, as enshrined in the Constitution, is clear and unambiguous. The 4000 plus religions in the world are free to practice their faith as long as they harm no one or refuse to tolerate the different religious practices of others.

Simple, right? It would seem not. Intermixed with Freedom of Religion, which includes Freedom from Religion, is Freedom of Speech.

Once again there is a difference between what we say, or point to in the Constitution, and what we practice in our daily lives. Professional athletes take a knee to highlight the persistence of racism within this county and they are castigated, threatened, and called un-American.

What could be more American than to take a stand to right a wrong? What could be more emblematic of American courage than to stand against evil? But even if you disagree with their method, which truth be told I found useless and ineffective, you must support their right to such expression.

If you argue that everyone must stand for the National Anthem out of some sense of respect for the hard-fought freedoms most of us enjoy, you’ve missed the point.

Being a product of the 60s, I lived through the years of violent anti-war protests, anti-government upheavals, and civil rights riots. My parents’ generation looked on those protesters as un-American. Yet President Lyndon Johnson saw the need for sweeping civil rights legislation, the Great Society, to right many wrongs highlighted by the protests.

Despite Dr. Martin Luther King’s plea for non-violence, decades of rage over racial disparity coupled with an ill-conceived and unnecessary war in Viet Nam drove the country to the boiling point.

Yet we survived.

Today, Freedom of Speech is threatened by conditional tolerance. We need zealously guard free expression, even when we find ourselves in complete disagreement with the message.

Think about this for a moment. During the war in Viet Nam, anti-war protesters were considered anti-American. If that’s the case, then to be pro-American is to be Pro-War? Such sentiments carried over to the ongoing conflict in Iraq.

I find the idea that opposing war is un-American to be false on its face. Americans should fight only when necessary and vigorously oppose policies to the contrary. Had such a philosophy existed in 1954, when American military advisors first went to South Viet Nam, 56,000 more Americans might be enjoying their freedoms.

To be American is to hold a wide variety of political, religious, and cultural perspectives. To be American is to tolerate and appreciate the differences others may have and to work together to bring the best of these to the benefit of all.

If we want to set standards for the religion or speech we will tolerate, it is a slippery slope to losing our freedoms.

In the Arabic world, the majority of which is Muslim, they greet each other in this way.

“As-salaam Alaykum,” meaning “Peace be upon you” and answered by “wa ʿalaykumu s-salām” meaning “and peace be upon you too.” (apologies if I got the spelling wrong)

What’s wrong with that? Almost sounds Christian.

Santa’s Other List: Thoughts for the Twelve Days of Christmas

Most of us are familiar with the famous lists kept by Santa Claus. As children, we strive to be on the nice list.

As the hormones of puberty arise, we respond to our new-found sexuality. We live in hope that those we find attractive are on the naughty list. There is an irresistible draw to stray a bit.

Through parental intervention, shit luck, positive pregnancy tests, emergency room visits, or one too many rides in the back seat of a police car, most return from the dark side.

Or do we?

I think there is a third list.

The Numb List.

We become numb to the spirit that is Christmas.

We become numb to wonder, excitement, and hope.

We become numb to life in exchange for living.

When we are most suited to understand opportunity in our lives, we settle for becoming numb to the world.

We ignore injustices inflicted on others, if it has no effect on us.

We ignore the growing gap of the haves and the have nots, if we see ourselves content with our life.

We take offense at those who would cause us harm, yet stand idly by as others face harm.

We immerse ourselves in our iPhones, iPads, and iWorlds. Substituting email, tweets, and texts for human interaction.

Think about it. When was the last time you had a conversation with a friend? One that didn’t involve emoticons or videos of dogs riding on the backs of elephants?

I think the “I” in idevices stands for idiots. Or worse, impotent.

We’ve become “useful idiots” to our devices. They have made us impotent to making a difference in the world.

We are all on the numb list.

Numb to feeling any real emotion for our fellow humans.

Numb to the spirit of Christmas, or any other myriad traditions, that once were so important to us all.

Numb to being human beings, in a vast universe, open to unimaginable possibilities.

We are on the precipice of an unprecedented change in this country. We need to pay attention, lest we lose everything to ignorance and blustering intolerance.

Now is not the time to be numb. Now is not the time to be nice.

Now is the time for reclaiming hope. Yet, I fear it will go unheeded. The numb list is a comfortable place to be for most.

If that is the case, I prefer to rejoin the naughty list. Make noise in the presence of things that are wrong in the world.

Laugh with the sinners, not cry with the saints. At least they lived a life, not tolerated an existence.

Patently Offensive

When did being offended become the national pastime?

People take offense at everything they find different or contrary to their own beliefs or perspectives. The concept of tolerance has gone the way of the dinosaur. Something we dig up by accident once in a while to marvel at the magnificence that once was.

If someone wants to display the Confederate Flag, let ‘em. I think it more a reflection on them that they choose to celebrate a representation of a repulsive philosophy than an acknowledgment of history.

And they lost. I prefer to celebrate a victory. If someone wants to cheer, “We’re number two, we got beat by you,” have at it.

Some people take offense at the display of the American flag. A symbol of their very right to disagree and talk freely about these differences.

Some people are offended by religious displays, patriotic displays, sports, military, police, and other symbols.

All of this offense at symbols belittles the very nature of intelligence and tolerance. It demeans a rational approach to understanding our differences that, when blended in the best way, make us all Americans.

When did it become necessary for the whole world to restrain from championing a cause out of fear that some would disagree? It is in a civil and rational discussion of these different causes that we find a common solution.

Those who embrace the symbol of the Stars and Bars suffer from a lack of fundamental understanding of the overwhelming stain of racism in this country.

Those who would burn the American flag fail to see the contradiction in their actions. They are able to do such things because brave men and women died to uphold the rights represented by that flag.

Those who are offended by the display of a Christmas tree, a Menorah, the Star and Crescent, and others demand tolerance for themselves yet refuse it to others.

Knowledge and education are the keys to the world’s problems. Focusing our efforts on arguing what shouldn’t be displayed drains energy from that which would do good; seeking to understand the history behind these symbols and recognizing them as powerless unless we imbue them with power.

The best example is the Swastika of Nazi Germany. To most people, it represents an unspeakable horror and destructive philosophy. Yet the symbol, called Svastika in Sanskrit, means auspiciousness. Nazi Germany co-opted the symbol for the Third Reich.

Most take offense at the sight of such a symbol. The image of Neo-Nazis in today’s world reflect the continuity of the ignorance, brutality, and irrationality of that era and philosophy. Yet, by understanding the original meaning, one can see the irony in a bunch of ignorant white bigots embracing a symbol created in a Buddhist/Hindu tradition.

A symbol carries meaning only if we recognize it. A Christmas tree is a symbol of the Christian faith or it is a tree sacrificed in the tradition of the Druids.

A flag with stars and bars is the symbol of the proud history of the south or a representation of the failure of one race to impose its false superiority on another.

If you find something offensive, first make sure you understand why. Then work to foster a better understanding. Seek to educate not merely cover up.

Americans should be made of tougher stuff than to let symbols, words, or insignificant displays offend us.

Don’t take offense. Don’t whine and cry and whimper in weakness. Seek to understand that the most offensive symbol in the world represents the ignorance of those who promote it, not the power or truth of what is represents.

Grow a pair America. If this offends you, good. Do something.

 

 

Misplaced Tolerance: The Price of Practicality

There is a sad, yet well-established history in this country of aligning ourselves with groups and governments that are the antithesis of our cherished love of freedom.

During WWII, we allied ourselves with the Soviet Union for the greater good of defeating Nazi Germany

In Vietnam we supported, some would say orchestrated, a violent coup which overthrew one tyrannical government in favor of one more to our liking. We then supported this government in its battle against the communist north under Ho Chi Minh. Of course, we supported Ho Chi Minh prior to that when he fought against the Japanese. Yet we did not support Ho Chi Minh when they fought against French colonialism, after all, Vietnam does not fall under the umbrella of the Monroe doctrine.

We did it again in Kuwait, aligning ourselves with one dynastic, Islamic royalty against the country of Iraq. Among our allies, Saudi Arabia. The house of Saud is a theocratic dynastic royalty which embraces Sharia law.

Now our latest, supporting false democratic governments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These alliances make sense if one takes a practical approach to the world. However, practicality should have limitations.

The world needed to stop Hitler. His actions set in motion a war in which over 60 million people died. Three percent of the world’s population at the time.

Our alliance with Stalin brought about the defeat of Hitler. Under Stalin, an estimated 50 million people died “unnatural” deaths during the years 1924-1953. This number excludes wartime deaths.

In a practical world, aligning with Stalin to defeat Hitler made military and strategic sense. Moreover, one could argue Stalin killed fewer people. In a practical sense, he was the lesser of two evils.

The Soviet Union went on from WWII to support the North Vietnamese with weapons against our new allies in South Vietnam. Our Russian allies killed Americans because the practicalities of the world changed.

Practicality has a price.

Our path of practicality has come at a cost to our beliefs. I, for one, think it past the time that we put practical considerations aside and focus on doing the right thing.

Some will argue we have no right to impose our standards on others. I agree. We do not impose our standards on anyone. However, we also do not support those that would mistreat their own people under misguided 14th century concepts.

What we need is a qualifications checklist for receiving aid, military or otherwise, from this country. This country may not be perfect but our laws seek to protect everyone. The last time I checked our laws do not consider women to be property. Our laws do not permit discrimination based on race, ethnicity, skin color, or sexual orientation. Our laws are there to protect all of us.

Are there exceptions to these rules, of course there are. The sad fact is that many embrace similar archaic, mostly religious-based concepts of equality. Many consider women inferior to men and in need of male guidance. They cloak this control with claims of “protecting” women. Protecting them from what? My guess would be from the very ones controlling them.

Many consider certain races or ethnicities to be inferior. That is a symptom of their faulty upbringing or lack of education. While the reality of these idiotic, misogynistic and childish beliefs is unfortunate, it is not enshrined in our laws. Unlike many of the countries we support under the guise of practicality, we strive for the equality of all.

I think it long past the time when this country needs to be that “Shining City on the Hill” (in the secular sense.)

Time we stop ignoring civil rights abuses under the premise of “tolerance” for difference and start insisting on conditions for our support.

If the Saudi’s believe that Sharia law is more important than our strategic support that is their choice.

If Afghanistan permits the jailing of women based solely on the word of their husband or believes that some archaic social code that refuses women the right to self-determination is more important than our support that is their choice.

Practicality has limitations. Common sense tells us that all human beings are entitled to self-determination and the right to control their own destiny.

This experiment called the United States began with these words,

We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness; …

These were the words of Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence. Words later changed for the final document. I think these words capture his meaning in a much clearer sense.

Perhaps it is time we put these words at the top of every agreement, treaty, support, or assistance package we offer as a condition.

Our practicality needs a conscience.