Monday, July 31, 2006

On Blacklisting and Mel

Mel Gibson's recent arrest for DUI and his reported drunken anti-Semitic comments made to the arresting officer have sparked a small fury - and reopened arguments of anti-semitism, hate-speech and First Amendment rights.

But, what we're really witnessing is the deteriorating condition of America today. And by that I mean, the complete loss of tolerance towards differing (and often hurtful) thoughts and opinions.

The United States was founded on the premise of tolerance, and it is tolerance that kept us prospering (and the apple of the world's eye) for two centuries. Tolerance does not mean that everyone lives in harmony - but rather that everyone is allowed their opinions, no matter how inflammatory. Be clear here - I'm not talking about extremism or calls to violence, but simply opinion that can be offensive.

We have obviously weathered many storms in this sea of freedom of speech, including the coordinated and deliberate attack on this freedom during the blacklisting days of the McCarthy era.

But reading Ari Emanuel's column in the Huffington Post today, I am shocked that he suggests a return to the McCarthy tactics by stating about Gibson:
People in the entertainment community, whether Jew or gentile, need to demonstrate that they understand how much is at stake in this by professionally shunning Mel Gibson and refusing to work with him...
Whoa there Ari. Basically you're calling to action the organized professional blacklisting of Gibson because he made the statement: "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world"?

[Note: For the record, Arianna Huffington's commentary supports Manuel's position - and I believe her wrong here as well.]

While I disagree with Gibson's statement, it is just that - a statement... an opinion (albeit a stupid and drunken one) - not a call to action.

And in the current state of the world where Israel has attacked Lebanon, regardless of the provocation, with significant civilian casualties including many children, and where prominent Jewish Americans like Alan Dershowitz call any criticism of Israel's actions "anti-Semitic," is it really any wonder that there are people out there who are angry at the Jewish community and its positions - and express it insensitively?

Does that opinion truly make one anti-Semitic to the point of warranting blacklisting?

And what is anti-semitism anyway? Is it any statement in offense of Jews? Is it any statement in any way critical of Israel and its policies? According to Alan Dershowitz, that answer is Yes.

But doesn't this simply cut of more of the whininess that often surrounds free-speech? The position that I should be able to say whatever I want - but if you say something that offends me, then you're a bigot/racist/[insert condemning term here].

According to an interesting opinion by Ibrahim Nafie on Al-Ahram Weekly (an online Arab publication) Israel itself is caught in hypocrisy regarding anti-semitism. Granted this article is an extremely biased opinion - but then, isn't every opinion - including opinions such as Manuel's... and Gibson's?

In my little corner of the world I can say that I am tired of every criticism of an individual Black American's actions being labeled as racist, every criticism of Israel being labeled as anti-Semitic, and every criticism of the war as being un-American. They are all equally unfounded accusations.

We have become a society where tolerance has been supplanted by hypocrisy - and those who cry foul perpetuate the same behavior as that which they complain about. Labels are used to divide communities and promote specific agendas. And those promoting their agendas know that the easy-to-make racist/biased claims can cloud any issue and eliminate real debate or information exchange.

Yes, we should fight against extremism and against speech that crosses the line into calls for violence - but we should not confuse real hate-speech with speech we hate.

Gibson is an easy target - one which many in the Jewish community have waited years to find the soundbite they could damn him with (and in his drunken stupor he quite successfully complied).

But the real issue here isn't about Gibson, the individual. It's about an individual's protected right to make a critical or inflammatory statement without a call to blacklist them from society or their profession.

If on the other hand a concerted coordinated effort is made to discredit and destroy the lives of every person who makes derogatory comments about, or criticizes, individuals, groups or political/government actions, then Americans are accomplishing the ultimate hypocrisy and are walking dangerously close to adopting the tenets of facism - not of a free democracy.

And we should all know far too well that this is not something to be proud of.



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