It’s all over LJ, so you probably know about anniesj
and her visit from the Secret Service
over comments she had made in her LJ that she describes as “some rather inflammatory things about George W. Bush in a public post in my LJ, done in a satirical style.
She has written a new entry
in which she responds to some of the discourse that has occurred in response to her experience. Now, anniesj
has every right to her own thoughts and responses to this experience, but I also have every right to say that I think she is very wrong in some respects.
In her follow-up, she says:1. I made a very big mistake in posting what I originally posted. I did not intend to threaten anyone with what I originally said. I was pissed off by what President Bush said, and I ranted about it without thinking that what I said could be construed as a threat against the president's safety. Obviously, I was wrong and I admit responsibility for making an inflammatory post. I apologize to anyone it may have offended, and I will be much more careful in the future when expressing my political beliefs.
2. My political beliefs did not trigger this, and what happened to me was not political. The reason why I was reported to the FBI was because I made the mistake of posting something that could be misconstrued as being a threat to the president's safety. I understand this, I apologize for it, and I will not make the same mistake again. I repeat, I do not seriously wish to harm anyone else on this planet, and in the future, I will make certain that I never give that impression again, no matter how pissed off I get.sistermarysith
has already written a wonderful response
to this, but I need to put in my two cents’ worth as well.
Free speech is one of the most important rights that a citizen can have. Any attempt to suppress it is a political act. It’s true that most democratic nations have placed some prudent limitations on some forms of speech, such as inciting crimes, hate speech against minorities, slander and libel. But citizens must remain able to challenge any and all of the cultural and political assumptions, issues, policies, processes, parties, and powerful individuals in their society. And to ensure this, limitations should not be placed on speech because it is offensive, or satirical, or speculative, or obscene, or even violent.
Satire, in particular, has a long history of using violent images to make its points. And satire is a mode of speech that is open to anyone, not just professional comics and satirists. The use of violent imagery in satire does not mean that a real threat is being made. Emotional utterances are another area in which people use a lot of violent imagery that has no literal intent. Again, just saying something violent doesn’t mean you are going to do it, or even that you really want to do it.
For instance, I could make a satirical comment about George W. Bush being too arrogantly sure that he is doing God’s will and under God’s protection to bother getting out of the way of a deadly plague of locusts. Does this mean that I, personally, am planning on making this happen, or even that I want to see harm come to him?
I could write a play about George W. Bush waking up one day and finding himself transformed into a pregnant women, and cover in great detail the agonising process of trying to find an abortion and failing, only to end up bleeding to death on a back-street abortionist’s table. Does that mean I really want to see that happen?
Or I could create an animation in which George W. Bush can be made to walk into a toxic waste dump and die choking on the chemical fumes while all the birds and animals harmed by his environmental policies express their hopes that a new President will do something to let them live. Does that mean I want him to die a slow and painful death?
I might blurt out in the heat of anger or frustration that often surrounds intense political debate, that the world would be much better off if George W. Bush were dead, or even that he deserves to die because of all the Afghani and Iraqi civilians murdered in his wars. Does that mean that I want the man dead, much less that I plan to kill him myself?
I have the right to be offensive. I have the right to think about violent acts, and to speak about them. It may well be impolite and inconsiderate and even counter-productive to utter offensive and violent speech, but unless it’s coupled with immediate threat of bodily harm, it’s still just speech and it’s my right to utter it. And it’s a lot less offensive than sending armies to kill innocents, or wilfully turning a blind eye to policies that ravage the environment.
What I - or anyone - do not have is a right to commit violence, or incite someone else to. And if a government cannot understand the distinction between the act of speech and the act of violence, if it tries to limit speech about a public figure, no matter how offensive or violent that speech may be, that would be an act of political repression, no matter how nice and polite the brown-shirted thugs in their government-issue camouflage suits are when they arrive at the door.
And that is what bothers me, not just about what happened to anniesj
, but also about the tone of her response to it. anniesj
was silenced, and unless we fight that silencing, it could happen to anyone else. The lesson I take from what happened to her is not to be cautious about what I say, lest someone think it is offensive or threatening and call down the dogs of thoughtcrime upon me, but rather to struggle for the right of everyone to speak in freedom.
First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
-Pastor Martin Niemöller