Right to our opinions is valuable personal freedom

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After reading Elyse Semerdjian’s special to the U-B column (“Blaming all Muslims for terrorism ignores the facts,” Aug. 2), I was happy to see Craig Buchanan defend his right to express his opinion (“Claiming ‘hate’ is just way to censor speech,” Aug. 6).

I agree with the title of Professor Semerdjian’s column (and much of the content), but some points are questionable.

Claiming Buchanan’s letter is an “incitement to violence,” “hate speech” or that by publishing it the U-B has “put Muslims in our community in fear of harassment and even violence” is an unreasonable stretch. The right to voice our opinion is one of the most valuable of our personal freedoms. Of course others have the right to challenge those opinions, as has been done here.

I’m sure Walla Walla’s Muslim exchange students are wonderful people whom I would enjoy meeting, and I hope their stay is (or has been) a rewarding and happy experience. Writing this on Aug. 7, I also wish them a happy Eid al Fitr (marking the end of Ramadan).

Professor Semerdjian wrote, “Referring to these groups as ‘jihadists,’ as Buchanan’s letter does when referring to the 9/11 attackers, lends legitimacy to what is, in fact, the illegitimate use of violence by misguided fringe groups.” Well, Islamist Jihad groups can hardly be defined as “fringe.”

Sure, Mr. Buchanan appeared to include all Muslims in the actions of a violent minority, but unfortunately that global minority is vast in number. Supporters (of over 80 identified Sunni and Shia Islamic terrorist groups worldwide) number in the millions, according to polls.

Jihad — in the “holy war” context rather than the other definitions — is a word commonly used by Islamist personalities, including Osama bin Laden, his mentor and current al-Qaida leader Ayman Zawahiri, Ayatollahs Ruhollah (“Islam is Not a Religion of Pacifists”) Khomeini, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, Hasan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb and Muhammad Atta (leader of the 9/11 terrorists whose five-page suicide note makes it clear they were jihadis) and others. Today’s Islamist terrorists and supporters justify these cowardly acts of “mass-murder martyrdom” (Shahid) as jihad.

What’s next? Do we really want laws such as in Italy where the late, outspoken war correspondent Oriana Fallaci was tried for “defaming Islam” (with a Swiss judge ordering an arrest warrant?), or France, where Brigitte Bardot was charged five times for “insulting Islam?”

I don’t think so. Not in America.

Steve Singleton

Walla Walla

Comments

fatherof5 8 months, 1 week ago

I just re-read the original letter in question in order to take another look as to whether it rises to the level of hate speech and inciting violence, either of which could supercede the writer's 1st Amendment right to free speech.

I don't think it does. However........

I just watched "42" last night with my kids, which is a terrific telling of the story of Jackie Robinson's 1947 entry into major league baseball. Jackie faces a lot of racist sentiments, such as: "You don't belong here, boy," and "Them coloreds is gonna ruin our American past time!" The tone of the U-B's anti-Muslim letter reminds me of the tone in this film from the folks who were opposed to allowing "coloreds" into MLB.

Here's what I mean. I'll just change a few words from that letter and you can see for yourself:

"There's a designed outreach to the coloreds by President Kennedy. U.S. citizens pay full-ride scholarships to students to come to our high school, and three of them were coloreds! In fact, those who know President Kennedy best say he secretly wishes he could be a colored. In our recent troubles, one could say President Kennedy has let the coloreds kill the whites."

Put yourself back 50 years in the south and listen again to this verbiage. I basically just exchanged "colored" for "Muslim" and "Kennedy" for "Obama." Otherwise, the language is essentially unchanged. Is this the kind of speech that riles up bands of fearful whites to "protect" themselves? How would you feel being an African-American living in a town where folks thought and spoke this way about you - and where this kind of stuff was published in the local paper?

How about being a Muslim and reading Mr. Buchanan's letter?

Is this "hate speech"? It is certainly heading in that direction.

For me, if I'm the editor of the U-B, I decline to run Mr. Buchanan's letter when - after he has insinuated that local Muslim-Americans and Muslim students are a threat to us - he concludes: "...President Obama let the Muslims kill the Christians."

Combining those sentiments is too much. As an editor, I get to make the call as to what crosses the line of violating community standards of decency. Yes, it is subtle enough that Mr. Buchanan has a Constitutional right to write it. But the U-B also has a right not to publish it.

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fatherof5 8 months, 1 week ago

Also, Mr. Singleton's letter (above) asks if we really want laws against insulting Islam. Since no one is proposing laws against insulting Islam, this is a strawman argument.

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stvsngltn 8 months, 1 week ago

I wouldn't call that a strawman argument, FO5. No, there are not yet proposals to enact laws against insulting Islam as there are now in Europe ... but don't you think that's where this is heading? Once someone calls out "hate speech" or "incitement to violence" you can bet that may well be contemplated. It would not suprise me in the least. First Amendment or not.

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fatherof5 8 months, 1 week ago

I respectfully disagree. I don't see this heading there at all. When you see a bill proposed that limits our right to criticize religion, let me know.

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stvsngltn 8 months ago

Besides, I started that paragraph with "what's next?"

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fatherof5 8 months ago

Okay, Steve, maybe I chose the wrong logical fallacy. It was more of a slippery slope + red herring argument than a strawman.

How's that for some give and take. :)

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namvet60 8 months ago

Great letter Steve - referring to Mr. Buchanan's letter I do not totally agree with his letter but what disturbs me is the posters reponding to the letter claiming free speech but laced with very dramatic condemning and degrading rhetoric totally uncalled for.

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downhillracer 8 months ago

How about offering a specific "lacing", rather than your usual generalized agreeing-and-whining?

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namvet60 8 months ago

Go back and check your previous posts and then you would understand.

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paco1234 8 months ago

France, the land of "Liberte" charged Brigitte Bardot 5 times for speaking her petit mind? Not in America, Steve. I wished she should've stay in America. She really had nothing to say...but a lot to show! Vive la Bardot!

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jubilado 8 months ago

The point most often made by the pro-Buchanan camp is that we have freedom of speech. They are correct in this case and his letter is covered by it even if it is a muddled hatchet job which is bereft of facts and full of innuendo.

Buchanan first sentence tells someone found a box cutter on a plane. He doesn't make any attempt to tie this to Muslims.

Mr Buchanan notes that many of the workers cleaning planes are Muslims. Has he noticed that many recent immigrants from all over the world are cleaning hallways, bathroom and planes because that is the only work they can get? There are many doctors and lawyers from foreign countries who are driving cabs.

Muslim students have been coming to the U.S. as exchange students for years. I had a Muslim foreign exchange student in class and she was polite, pleasant and bright.

Steve singleton states, “I agree with the title of Professor Semerdjian’s column ['Blaming all Muslims for terrorism ignores the facts,'] (and much of the content), but some points are questionable. Claiming Buchanan’s letter is an 'incitement to violence,' 'hate speech' or that by publishing it the U-B has 'put Muslims in our community in fear of harassment and even violence' is an unreasonable stretch.”

OK, of course First Amendment freedom of speech is central to a free society (or even in the sort of, kind of free society we have today). Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969) said unprotected speech must incite “imminent lawless action.”

Brandenburg sets a very high bar. What we are left with then often is hateful speech, but not legally actionable "hate speech. " Too many UB letters are strong on emotion but are without facts or civility and simply spread hate and discontent.

The UB says they will print all letters “that conform to our guidelines.” I wonder if these are guidelines stated somewhere or are they subjective?

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fatherof5 8 months ago

A thoughtful analysis, jubilado. The U-B's guidelines can be seen in full if you go to Editorials/Letters to the Editor and then click the red "Submit Letter to the Editor" link.

In part, they read: "All letters are subject to condensation and will be edited for spelling, grammar, libel, taste, factuality and style. Letters should not contain personal attacks and written to address our readers, not other letter writers or public officials."

If the editor had chosen not to print the letter in question, I think he could have cited taste (particularly given the juxtaposition of Muslim exchange students at Wa-Hi and then Obama helping Muslims "kill Christians"). The policy goes on to say that they hope to print all local letters that conform to their guidelines.

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