I’m not Daniel Pearl, James Foley, or Edward Snowden. I’m not Steven Sotloff, and I’m really not Charlie, either. I’m a freelance writer with a specialty in business and finance. One of the most controversial stories I’ve written was about gray markets for quilt fabric. A typical reporting gig takes me to a plush conference room or a trade show, not a war zone.
And yet, I’ve been sued for libel. It was baseless, and I paid good money for the defense – money that the plaintiff has been ordered to reimburse me. Even reporting from the comfort of one’s home office can afflict the comfortable and, it is hoped, comfort the afflicted.
People asked me why I didn’t just take the post in question down. It’s simple: I didn’t do anything wrong. My post was valid, and my rights as an American depend on my willingness to defend them. I am not about to be bullied by someone who took millions of dollars from his clients, who included a rabbi.
We honor our warfighters as heroes, and I have deep respect for the work they do in war and at peace. But members of the military are not the only ones defending our freedom. Teachers, writers, comedians, lawyers, politicians, and really, each and every one of us who expresses an opinion is keeping our freedom alive. We need to learn our rights, and we need to exercise them.
The Charlie Hebdon massacre really struck me because over the years, I’ve known many staffers and freelancers for The Onion. Suddenly, it’s my husband’s buddy who used to sell ads for the Chicago print edition or Nathan who used to be the movie critic or Claire or Will or Other Annie or Steve or Leonard who have done AV Club reviews and interviews. I can see people I know in the crosshairs.
Free speech has consequences, but they should not include violence and murder. The United States (mostly) has free speech, and most of us have learned to roll our eyes and call out those who say offensive things. Nazis can march in Skokie, but it’s okay to hate Illinois Nazis. The Interview was no more offensive than The Naked Gun; I thought it was a good parody of Frost/Nixon, an absolutely great play.
It is not okay to kill Illinois Nazis.
The Second Amendment may allow people to carry guns. That should apply to African-Americans picking up toy guns for sale at Walmart as to chubby white men who want to carry long arms. When the law does not apply equally, we have the right to peaceable protest.
Freedom creates some other interesting effects. For example, Americans tend to be more religious than people in other countries, despite the fact that we have no state religion. No one is required to join a church, and yet, Americans do. Under the theory of religious economy, the very freedom has created an almost infinite array of denominations, so that everyone can find something that appeals to them. Liberal preaching with conservative music? Modern music and conservative preaching? Conservative on some matters but not others? You name it, there’s probably a place of worship in your community that offers it. Because we are free to choose, we do.
That also means we have to recognize that others may not have the same religion, or any religion at all. It takes strong faith to assume that you are right and others are wrong, and maybe that’s another reason that Americans are religious. The corollary is that your faith must be pretty weak if hearing “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” from a clerk at Target upsets you.
Or if you think a cartoon can hurt an all-mighty God.
I’ve been doing so much reading on emerging markets, and it’s sad how often a country’s progress is derailed because the people can’t figure out a way to get along. The money and energy that goes into holding back an ethnic group or promoting one religion could be put to better use getting people clean water, you know?
And that’s the thing about free speech. It isn’t always easy to hear things we don’t like, but the more we hear them, the better we become. Some idiot painting swastikas on mail boxes isn’t going to turn me into a Nazi; it’s going to make me think that there are some idiots out there.
Let’s not be the idiots.