FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

When Free Speech Doesn’t Come for Free

by REMI KANAZI

Free speech is not without consequence. In the United States, for example, criticism of Israel is tantamount to heresy. Former US President Jimmy Carter felt a societal backlash last year after the release of his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, which condemned Israel’s apartheid-style policies in the occupied Palestinian territories. Consequently, and without foundation, Carter was branded by many in the American press as a one-sided, anti-Semitic propagandist. Similarly, Harvard professor Stephen Walt and University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer were lambasted for a paper the two co-authored that discussed the power of the Israel lobby and its adverse effect on American policy. Additionally,  Norman Finkelstein, an esteemed professor at Depaul University and author of the bestselling book, The Holocaust Industry, witnessed a McCarthyite-style campaign mounted against him when he came up for tenure. Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survivors, has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s human rights abuses and of pro-Israel apologist and Harvard professor, Alan Dershowitz. Predictably, it was Dershowitz who led the anti-tenure campaign against him; ultimately, Finkelstein was not only denied tenure, but he lost his job at Depaul.

The attacks against Carter, Finkelstein, Walt and Mearsheimer serve as a few well-known examples of the consequences writers and intellectuals face when they breach the line and criticize Israel. Furthermore, the condemnation writers and intellectuals of Arab descent face are invariably higher than Jews of conscience, former presidents, and highly regarded academics. As a result, many writers often acquiesce to the demands of the mainstream. Their self-censorship usually appears in the form of “toning down the message,” be it to please editors or critics—essentially to conform to the reality of purported pragmatism. Yet, this “pragmatism” is a euphemism for acceptance of a repressive status quo and is analogous to the “necessary” practical thinking that silenced a multitude of commentators during the Oslo years—the supposed time of peace. Unsurprisingly, untold Palestinian suffering followed as a result of increased settlement expansion, land confiscation, checkpoints and seizures, and the ultimate failure of Camp David 2000.

Shying away from perceived controversial matters may help to protect a mainstream career, but the intent of a political analyst should not be to produce works of fiction. The vast majority of Americans weren’t open to criticism of US policy during the run-up to the war on Iraq, mainly due to the media’s complicity in promoting the war, but criticism was still the appropriate course of action based on the facts, and Americans would have been better off for it today.

A man who combined principle, activism, and human appeal quite masterfully was distinguished educator and commentator, Edward Said. In the realm of academia and Middle East analysis, Said was by no means viewed as the quintessential radical. Nonetheless, his positions were radical when juxtaposed with “conventional wisdom”: he was a proponent of the one-state solution, an unwavering critic of the Israeli government, and an ardent supporter of the ostensibly controversial right of return. Said was still heavily criticized throughout his career and endured incessant attacks by his detractors, yet his accessible personality and articulate message kept him relevant.

Sadly, Said’s relative acceptance has been the exception rather than the rule. In recent years, there has been increased emphasis on putative pragmatic dialogue. However, this accentuation on so-called rational and balanced thinking has proven to be little more than a sinister means to pressure the oppressed to accept the position of the oppressor. The greatest leaders of the last hundred years didn’t shy away from controversy; they remained persistent, and saw their visions brought to fruition; be they Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, or Mahatma Gandhi. Nevertheless, one cannot overlook that even paramount figures have been castigated for “overstepping” their boundaries, namely Martin Luther King who was chided for speaking out against the war in Vietnam, imperialism, and social injustices that plagued the US.

This week, Palestinians across the US commemorated 60 years of displacement. Yet, the lens the Palestinian people are expected to look through under the pragmatist vision is one that sees a dispossessed people as necessary victims for a righteous state to take form. Unfortunately, waves of writers and commentators continue to adopt this line in fear of retribution, in exchange for nicer houses and comfortable livings, or a combination of both. That is their free will. Free speech is not without consequence. Nonetheless, losing piece of mind is the only repercussion a writer should fear.

REMI KANAZI is the editor of the forthcoming anthology of poetry, Poets For Palestine, which can be pre-ordered at www.PoetsForPalestine.com. Remi can be contacted at remroum@gmail.com.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
David Rosen
Donald Trump’s Pathetic Sex Life
Susan Roberts
Are Modern Cities Sustainable?
Joyce Nelson
Canada vs. Venezuela: Have the Koch Brothers Captured Canada’s Left?
Geoff Dutton
America Loves Islamic Terrorists (Abroad): ISIS as Proxy US Mercenaries
Mike Whitney
The Obnoxious Pence Shows Why Korea Must End US Occupation
Joseph Natoli
In the Post-Truth Classroom
John Eskow
One More Slaughter, One More Piece of Evidence: Racism is a Terminal Mental Disease
John W. Whitehead
War Spending Will Bankrupt America
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Latest Insulting Proposal: Converting SNAP into a Canned Goods Distribution Program
Robert Fantina
Guns, Violence and the United States
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Zaps Oxygen
John Laforge
$1.74 Trillion for H-bomb Profiteers and “Fake” Cleanups
CJ Hopkins
The War on Dissent: the Specter of Divisiveness
Peter A. Coclanis
Chipotle Bell
Anders Sandström – Joona-Hermanni Mäkinen
Ways Forward for the Left
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Winning Hearts and Minds
Tommy Raskin
Syrian Quicksand
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Still Tries to Push Dangerous Drug Class
Jill Richardson
The Attorney General Thinks Aspirin Helps Severe Pain – He’s Wrong
Mike Miller
Herb March: a Legend Deserved
Ann Garrison
If the Democrats Were Decent
Renee Parsons
The Times, They are a-Changing
Howard Gregory
The Democrats Must Campaign to End Trickle-Down Economics
Sean Keller
Agriculture and Autonomy in the Middle East
Ron Jacobs
Re-Visiting Gonzo
Eileen Appelbaum
Rapid Job Growth, More Education Fail to Translate into Higher Wages for Health Care Workers
Ralph Nader
Shernoff, Bidart, and Echeverria—Wide-Ranging Lawyers for the People
Chris Zinda
The Meaning of Virginia Park
Robert Koehler
War and Poverty: A Compromise with Hell
Mike Bader – Mike Garrity
Senator Tester Must Stop Playing Politics With Public Lands
Kenneth Culton
No Time for Olympic Inspired Nationalism
Graham Peebles
Ethiopia: Final Days of the Regime
Irene Tung – Teófilo Reyes
Tips are for Servers Not CEOs
Randy Shields
Yahoomans in Paradise – This is L.A. to Me
Thomas Knapp
No Huawei! US Spy Chiefs Reverse Course on Phone Spying
Mel Gurtov
Was There Really a Breakthrough in US-North Korea Relations?
David Swanson
Witness Out of Palestine
Binoy Kampmark
George Brandis, the Rule of Law and Populism
Dean Baker
The Washington Post’s Long-Running Attack on Unions
Andrew Stewart
Providence Public School Teachers Fight Back at City Hall
Stephen Cooper
Majestic Meditations with Jesse Royal: the Interview
David Yearsley
Olympic Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail