Imagine No First Amendment

Torture has no place in polite society. Nations say they don’t even when they do. Censorship is repression that’s much more socially acceptable.

“If you walked down the street and you said to your ordinary man in the street ‘What do you think of torture?’ he’d say ‘Yes, it’s a terrible thing,'” Frances D’Souza was reflecting. “If you asked about censorship he’d say, ‘We need more of it. It’s a good idea.'”

D’Souza, based in London, was in Chicago last week to raise funds for Article 19, the International Centre Against Censorship. She’s executive director of Article 19, and it’s facing an uphill battle. Article 19 was founded six years ago (with serious assistance from Chicago’s J. Roderick MacArthur Foundation) and named after the passage in the United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights that declares: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Words the world does not hold dear.

“In Europe there is, I think, an increasing movement to greater restrictions on speech. If you have a problem, why not stop people from talking about it? It looks as though you’re dealing with the problem. There’s a wonderful analogy–in the United Kingdom there’s an increasing problem of racism and discrimination against ethnic minorities. The way in which the British government has chosen to deal with it is to restrict asylum policies. The problem is to deal with acts of discrimination and racism in society, not to try to stop people from coming into the country. The analogy is that there are several countries in Western Europe attempting to deal with problems of racism by introducing restrictions on free speech. In France you’re not allowed to say anything against the Arab minority, but I don’t think there is a great deal of evidence to suggest if you stop talking about a problem it will go away.”

D’Souza explained that Article 19 exists to confront “the very problematic areas of free speech,” one of which is hate speech. The distinction between advocacy and incitement is not routinely made, not even, she observed, in the Declaration of Human Rights itself. So a year ago her organization set out to shed some badly needed light. Writers were assigned to contribute to a book called Striking a Balance: Hate Speech, Freedom of Expression and Non-Discrimination that Article 19 published just this month.

“We had hoped we could arrive at a consensus where acts of discrimination were outlawed but speech was unfettered,” D’Souza said. “But what happened was that something like 15 countries are covered in this book, and 75 percent of those who contributed to the book conclude that we not only need more legislation against hate speech but also much more frequent application of the laws that do exist. And that surprised me unbelievably.” It obliged her to compose a forward stressing that the views of the contributors were not necessarily those of the publisher.

Why did this happen? we asked her.

“I think it’s very difficult for people to seem to be endorsing hate speech,” D’Souza said. “And there is a sort of common assumption that it is socially appropriate to condemn hate speech in the interests of equality and dignity. It’s our job at Article 19 to point out time and again that once laws are on the statute books the tendency is for them to be abused, to be used by the powerful against the less powerful. Restricting hate speech by means of additional laws is not the answer.”

The ACLU understands that, D’Souza told us. Do other countries have equivalents of the ACLU? we wondered. Not really, she said. “What you’re dealing with is a totally different tradition in this country. You not only have First Amendment rights but you have people who will defend them. Could I give you another example? Apart from the appalling abuses that occur in the developing world, even in the so-called liberal democracies like the United Kingdom the erosion of press freedom is happening daily. There’s a major television station, Channel Four, which has made very brave and good documentaries about many political issues, including the war in Northern Ireland. In one program put out a few months ago, they revealed information that had been gained from secret sources, information which is very definitely in the public interest. Under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which is like emergency regulations in the UK, the court has ordered the television station to reveal the source of the information. Now, in the context of Northern Ireland it is beyond a shadow of a doubt that if the source is revealed, he or she will be murdered. Basically this court order, which we will fight tooth and nail, has an incredibly chilling effect on any further attempts to cover both sides of the Northern Ireland question.”

And in your fight? we asked her, how much of the British public will stand with you?

“That is the problem. The problem is that an unthinking public which does not have First Amendment rights and is not aware of the fundamental importance of a free media will conclude that we are supporting the IRA. And the IRA is just public enemy number one.”

Turning on Bush

The differences between Republicans and Democrats are often more ritualistic than heartfelt. But third-party candidacies in a two-party system represent real alienation, real loss of faith. That’s part of what makes them so interesting.

Retired admiral James Stockdale, candidate for vice president of the United States, told us last week he hasn’t “given five minutes thought” to Bill Clinton. “A lot of people tell me I’m making a big mistake–I’ll put Clinton in office,” Stockdale said. “I think it’s worth the risk.”

Pundits argue whether Ross Perot would do more damage to Clinton or George Bush if he formally declares for president. The consensus seems to be Clinton, on the grounds that there are only so many anti-Bush voters out there and Clinton can’t afford to share them. But Perot is disrespecting Bush. The point of Perot’s candidacy is his conviction that Bush is unworthy of the office.

Stockdale is Perot’s interim running mate. He and Perot are old friends, and he’s lending his name to get Perot on the ballot in states that require a two-person ticket. “I fully expect him to name a political man at some point,” Stockdale told us. But we’re not sure why Perot would. Perot appeals to the people he appeals to because he’s contemptuous of politics; he’s saying he’ll make the tough decisions politicians fear to and let the chips fall where they may. He’s the closest this country’s come in a good long time to a man on horseback. And Stockdale’s a genuine military hero; he won the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam war, and not for a moment of bravado in combat. He sustained and commanded the resistance during more than seven years in Hanoi as a POW.

George Bush was also a Navy aviator and war hero. In speeches Stockdale has called George Bush a friend. Curious about why Stockdale would turn on him, we called Stockdale at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, where Stockdale’s a fellow who has written extensively on personal integrity and national resolve.

“People say, does this mean you’re disappointed with Bush?” he told us. “I say, he’s a man of culture and education, he’s a man I admire. But I say the circumstances are critical. I’m talking about the national debt going to $12 trillion by the first of the century, if we follow the graph in the direction it’s going. We’re going to be dependent on other nations to support us. We’ll lose control of our own destiny.

“That’s why I think we’ve got to quit playing games and get somebody in office who can make painful decisions. Bush doesn’t seem to be comfortable in tough circumstances. Some people are better in crisis work than others. I just think he’s not showing it.”

George Bush probably doesn’t lose much sleep when Americans who have bitched about the White House for the past 12 years complain that he doesn’t have the character to be president. But when men like Stockdale no longer support him, then where is he?

Buy American, Burn Asian

Teams of educators need to pour into the ghettos of Los Angeles and teach the people there the facts of life. They obviously mistook Koreans for the Japanese. The Japanese are the ones who can respectably be bashed now, for their sly, relentless, antlike invasion of the American economy, which finds them destroying jobs, seizing key industries, and reducing free men and women to groveling peonage. Our captains of industry are beside themselves and demand government action. Perhaps another war will be necessary to restore the nation. Patriots pray otherwise, but do not flinch from the prospect.

The Koreans are the ones whose energy and industry should serve as an example to us all, especially to the self-pitying wastrels of the inner city blind to the opportunities go-getters seize.

In trashing the enterprises controlled by the Asians in their midst, the LA rioters may have thought they were simply taking the “Buy American” movement to another level and earning the respect of Lee Iacocca and every other countryman who’s had it up to here with the wily Oriental. What a tragic mistake!

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.