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In Defense of Dissent
By a Non-Dissenter

by Kirsten Andersen



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"I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it."


Across our nation -- from the West Wing, to the airwaves, to Main Street America -- people are acting...well, nuts.

Our mass departure from sanity is showing up in myriad ways; most visible among these is the virtual absence of anything resembling rational discourse concerning the matters at hand. The national hysteria began, of course, just hours after the attacks in New York and Virginia when two television evangelists made some unpopular (and not quite accurate, but that’s another story) theological statements during their broadcast. On 9/17, comments made by a late-night network talk show host concerning the comparative bravery or cowardice of the kamikaze murderers of 9/11 caused a national uproar. Most recently, a nationally syndicated columnist was dismissed from her position as a contributing editor for National Review Online (NRO).

The writer has suggested that her firing was an attempt by NRO to censor her incendiary columns of 9/13 and 9/20 (the columns in question in part demand we "invade [the terrorist’s] countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity"). NRO has published much more controversial pieces in the past, including a column advocating the conquering and Westernizing of the entire continent of Africa. The differences between NRO’s other, more controversial pieces and the raw, emotional screeds of a writer who lost a dear friend in the attacks on 9/11 were quite simply the quality of writing and clarity of thought.

No one has a constitutional right to have her words published in a national magazine. As any struggling writer will tell you, publication is a privilege. Any columnist is free to say and write whatever she wants to -- National Review is not obligated to print it.

That said, careful editing probably could have prevented certain parts of the writer’s last few columns from being distributed for public dissemination, and that would not have been ‘censorship.’ The ideas would have come across nicely even without some of the stronger language. But then again, that’s all the articles were -- collections of words...strong ones, perhaps, but nonetheless harmless -- that should not have badly offended any rationally-thinking person.

The problem, of course, is that no one in this country is thinking rationally anymore. From 9/11 until yesterday, the American people had been without an adequate outlet for their anger. In the absence of any identifiable, tangible enemy upon whom we could have unleashed our rage, we turned against each other. It hasn’t been pretty.

The invective that floods the airwaves whenever a person dares to utter a controversial word has frankly become tiresome. It used to be that only the Left participated in such policing of thought. Now, conservatives have climbed on the PC bandwagon, only they have given it a new moniker: "Pro-Americanism."

While I support and love America for everything she was, is, and will yet be, I question the validity of the prevalent attitude that, "If you disagree with (the President, the war, nuclear attacks, Islam’s inherent peace, et al), then you are Anti-American and want the terrorists to win." This attitude is wrong, ridiculous, and borderline Orwellian.

In a free society, there must be room for differing opinions. Whether or not our nation is at war is irrelevant. We are only required as citizens not to commit treason with our words or actions. We are not obligated to be cheerleaders.

Part of what makes this country wonderful is our Constitutional right to criticize it without fear of retribution. Right now, we seem to have suspended that right, and it is troubling. Even upper-level Bush administration officials like Ari Fleischer have publicly indicated support for restrictions on speech during this war. The Kumbaya-singing, give-peace-a-chance protesters may be silly and ignorant, but when we allow them to be silenced, we invite the possibility --indeed, the probability -- of our own silencing.

Regardless of perspective, the majority of Americans have the country’s best interests at heart. Whether they believe the United States should air-lift flowers and puppies to Osama’s lair or nuke Asia entirely off the face of the Earth, American citizens (and only citizens, mind you) have the right to their individual opinions. On the day we rescind that most fundamental of American rights, we will have become like the terrorists.

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