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    Letters to the Editors

    A puzzling diatribe against free speech


    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 5, 2003

    Re: The limits of faculty freedom, Dec. 29.

    I was dumbfounded by the commentary of Lionel S. Lewis regarding Sami Al-Arian, freedom of speech and academic freedom. He offered conclusive statements and then attempted to bolster them with demonstrations that clearly negated his conclusions and more nearly supported Al-Arian's cause.

    The purpose of the First Amendment is to protect the right of each of us to make hated speech. It does not matter if everyone in the United States hates Al-Arian's speech. He has the right to make it, especially if it is political speech. For example, every person in the United States has the right to say that Palestinian children should arm themselves with explosives and attack Israelis.

    Academic freedom is not precisely the same as freedom of speech, but it is very nearly so. In the academy, it is necessary that every view be expressed in order that it may be tested. Evidently, Lewis would deny this.

    Dr. Lewis, what is wrong with a young Palestinian freedom fighter arming himself with explosives and sacrificing his life in order to sow fear and confusion among his enemies? I know why I believe it is wrong. But why do you believe it is wrong? If the balance of power in the Middle East were reversed, do you think some Israeli children in similarly hopeless circumstances as the Palestinians might do the same? Is it not the case that one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter? These are legitimate questions that must be answered, and that is the primary purpose of the academy.

    Lewis accuses Al-Arian of moral turpitude for having published a poem offensive to some. Since when is an editor responsible for the views of his contributors? Must we demand the resignation of Philip Gailey because he allowed the remarks of Lionel S. Lewis to appear in the St. Petersburg Times? Is Gailey now a threat to free speech? Lewis is such a threat, no matter how well-intentioned. But Lewis has the right to advocate for limitations on free speech. Should Al-Arian's right to free speech be abridged?

    Lewis clearly confused action and speech. He did not attempt to show that Al-Arian acted so as to further terrorism except through speech.

    Lastly, Lewis' examples, ineffective as they were, were taken from speeches made in 1992 through 1994. That is far too remote to be relevant to the current proceedings against Al-Arian. To accuse Sami Al-Arian of moral turpitude based on the evidence presented was absurd. None of Lewis' arguments have merit. Such a diatribe from an eminent scholar suggests to me biases that he has not revealed -- perhaps even to himself.
    -- B. Thomas Harwood, St. Petersburg

    Contrasting views

    Re: Freedom/hate, by Ted Gup, and The limits of faculty freedom, by Lionel S. Lewis, Dec. 29.

    What an excellent, completely convincing article by Ted Gup on the necessity of free speech, despite the consequences. (That is speech -- spoken or written -- and not the burning symbols you have been advocating.) It is wonderful to read such a story by a courageous, broad-minded man whose experiences gave him every inclination to react and write just the opposite -- which is exactly what Lionel Lewis does in his accompanying article on the same page.

    It makes an interesting contrast. To Lewis, words are war and he is not about to accept free speech that does not agree with him and Israel. Nonetheless, we will accept his comments in America, too, to uphold his and Israel's right of free expression.
    -- W.H. Riddell, Tampa

    Beware hate propaganda

    Re: Freedom/hate, by Ted Gup.

    I am a survivor of the Holocaust. I am greatly disappointed to read that many highly regarded by American journalists and other intellectuals didn't learn a lesson from World War II.

    In Hungary in the 1930s, there was a democracy similar to what was in the United States at the same time. There was no open anti-Semitism, but Jews had to cope with restricted clubs, job opportunities and limited access to universities. As a consequence of freely circulated false accusations, more and more people were willing to believe Hitler's rhetoric. Finally, the Hungarian people voted for leaders who were willing to follow the Nazi example. When false accusations are repeated often enough, people start to believe them.

    False accusations against minorities are commonly used by political leaders of many countries to direct the peoples' attention away from their failures, leading to discrimination and persecution. There is evidence that the worse the economic conditions in a country become, the more the people are willing to believe that their problems are caused by Jews. When economic conditions improve, anti-Semitism declines sharply. However, sadly, those who were once misguided may remain anti-Semites forever.

    Hate propaganda should not be protected by freedom of speech because history shows that it may have tragic consequences.

    The American Constitution was written at a time when there was no radio, television, e-mail or computers. Freedom of speech has a different power now than it had when propaganda did not spread as quickly as it does today. Greater caution has to be exercised when the consequences of free speech are scrutinized.

    Displays of symbols that convey a life-threatening message to certain minorities should not be protected by free speech because they may destroy peoples' health, financial safety and even their very existence. It might be hard for individuals to understand this if they never suffered from discrimination. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas made this clear, even though he limited this to cross-burning. This is what he is familiar with, and what the swastika means is my experience.
    -- Francis Dukes-Dobos, Clearwater

    Gullible and dangerous

    Re: Freedom/hate, Dec. 29.

    Ted Gup's column about his encounter with "Abe" Ayad and what that proves about the relevance of free speech, even when hurtful, eludes me completely.

    Gup reveals himself to be that type of liberal, bleeding-heart, ivory-tower Jew who can be more dangerous than an anti-Semite. He mistakenly comes to the conclusion that Ayad is a great guy with a message of peace. Has anybody tried to sell him the Brooklyn Bridge?

    In reality, Ayad is thinking to himself,"I've really got me a live one; I can really lay a guilt trip on this guy." And, wishfully, "Too bad there aren't some like him in Israel."
    -- Marvin Katz, Oldsmar

    Graham should retire

    Re: Sen. Bob Graham .

    Time is a precious and valuable commodity, especially to a person who has great responsibilities such as president of the United States. Do we want a president who, as outlined in It's all in the details (Dec. 28), takes the time to write detailed notes of his daily activity such as: time he awoke, ate breakfast, got dressed, went to the bathroom, prepared to leave the house, rewound a tape, returned a tape, ate supper, watched CNN, etc.? I noted a total of 22 such detailed entries in one day. I hope that anyone with significant responsibilities would not use precious time to write such minute details of daily activity.

    Further, your Dec. 29 editorial, Graham's potential, points out that Bob Graham voted against the resolution to authorize President Bush to use force to disarm Saddam Hussein. He was "the only potential Democratic presidential candidate in Congress who voted against the resolution... " Even the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously for this -- including France, Russia and China.

    You further write that Graham "... wants to find something, anything, to get him out of the Senate... " To accomplish this, I suggest he simply resign or retire and spend more time with his family.
    -- M.A. Elliott, St. Petersburg

    Voters are ready

    Re: Graham's potential, editorial, Dec. 29.

    If Sen. Bob Graham is nominated to be the Democratic presidential candidate, his courageous vote against the resolution authorizing President Bush to attack Iraq and the certainty of thousands of Bushbags containing American bodies will bring an avalanche of Independent and Republican voters.
    -- Harry Harper, Clearwater

    In the bathhouse

    Re: An old tradition welcomes a new year, Jan. 2

    I really want to send a thank you out to Susan Taylor Martin for the quality pieces she writes for the Times.

    I love her articles -- she always writes with such a reality that it's like you are there with her. I remember when she wrote about being on the streets of Afghanistan with her photographer; I felt scared for them as if I was standing there with them.

    This story was different -- no gunfire, no hiding, but ohhhhhhh pass the soap and loofah . . .
    -- Nancy Sweadner, Clearwater

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