Best columns: The U.S.
Suppressing free speech will backfire
Greg Lukianoff and Nico Perrino
“Free speech is suffering a public relations crisis,” said Greg Lukianoff and Nico Perrino. A bitterly polarized and frightened nation is turning against the First Amendment. Our Constitution’s guarantee of free speech is a radical one, almost unprecedented in human history, and it’s played a critical role in the success of the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and the gay rights movement. But today many Americans have come to see certain ideas and speech as impermissible, and to believe any expression of racism, sexism, or bigotry should be silenced by any possible means, including violence. Yet history shows that suppressing speech doesn’t work: Laws banning Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic speech in Europe have resulted in higher rates of anti-Semitism there than in the U.S. Back in the 1920s and ’30s, when Germany jailed Nazis and banned Hitler from staging rallies, “they were celebrated as martyrs,” and their appeal grew. As tempting as censorship may be, it is always better to “understand what people actually think—not ‘even if’ it is troubling, but especially when it is troubling.” Bad ideas die not when they’re suppressed, but when they’re exposed to the disinfecting light of good ideas.
‘Open carry’ laws will create carnage
“It could have been so much worse,” said David Frum. When neo- Nazis and white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, Va., for a “Unite the Right” rally two weeks ago, some marched in paramilitary body armor and carried semiautomatic rifles. This dangerous display of deadly weapons at a political rally, clearly meant to intimidate and silence opponents, was legal under the “open carry” laws that have proliferated in pro-gun states. These laws pose a serious threat to public safety. Right-wing extremists brandishing guns capable of massacring dozens of people have shown up at many events, including one who came to a 2009 President Obama appearance with a placard reading, “It is time to water the tree of liberty!”—a reference to Thomas Jefferson’s famous description of revolutionary bloodshed. What social good is served by these open displays of vigilante firepower in city streets and at political rallies? “No other democracy on Earth tolerates such antics.” At some future confrontation, an armed supremacist hit by a rock or bottle may decide, out of fear, anger, or wounded pride, to use his weapon on the hated enemy. Charlottesville was ugly, but a greater tragedy could have occurred, and “sooner or later, it surely will.”
Trump’s ‘pig’s blood’ libel
With one reckless tweet after the dreadful terror attack in Barcelona, said David French, President Trump “spread fake history, libeled an American hero,” and celebrated an alleged war crime. “Study what General Pershing... did to terrorists when caught,” the president wrote. “There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!” Trump was referring to a story he told during the 2016 presidential campaign, claiming Gen. John J. Pershing—revered commander of U.S. forces during World War I— crushed an Islamic insurgency in the Philippines by committing an atrocity: lining up 50 captured Muslims, shooting 49 of them with bullets dipped in pig’s blood (deemed impure in Islam), and advising the lone survivor, “Go back to your people and you tell them what happened.” To begin with, “there’s no evidence Pershing did such a thing”—indeed, he worked hard in the Philippines to avoid inflaming religious tensions. Today, the generals in Trump’s Cabinet and the U.S. military would never approve such an atrocity, which would lead to more Islamist extremism, not less. For the commander in chief to boast about fictitious war crimes is “a complete disgrace”—and further proof that he is unfit to lead. ■