The Threat Is Not Speech


Bravo to Tal Ben-Shachar for his November 29 editorial, "Freedom to Limit Freedom." It takes boldness and imagination to simultaneously mourn the assassination of Rabin, the Oklahoma City bombings, and the election of Hitler to power while at the same time writing that "Countries ought to take preemptive measures against those who abuse freedom of speech." Such a statement sounds suspiciously like the philosophy of a Hitler or a Stalin--the very kind of people Ben-Shachar seeks to ban in his free society.

Ben-Shachar appears to be living in a universe where criticism, rhetoric and fiery distribes are directly linked with shootings, bombings and mass exterminations. The inhabitants of this universe are evidently unthinking, childlike automatons who blindly follow the loudest madman they can find. It is a universe of two-year-olds, where words are direct and magical forces that immediately cause actions.

Words and actions are very different, as any mature human should know. It strikes me as extremely immature then to write that "those who promote violence need to be punished regardless of whether or not they are actually carrying out violent actions themselves." Once a free society begins to commit violence against the speeches of madmen, then that society is no longer free, but in an of itself mad, unable to distinguish between ideas and reality.

The world is full of madness and there are Hitlers born every moment. Ben-Shachar needs to recognize that Hitler was freely elected by the Germans, and that the assassination of Rabin was not universally condemned in Israel. The dangers of a free society do not lie solely with the madmen. The dangers of a free society lie within the heart of every citizen.

If we scratch at the rash of this sickness, the rash will simply reemerge with a vengeance. But if we seek to cure the sickness from within, then the rash goes away. If Hitlers are elected and federal buildings leveled, then the fault lies with all of us. Who else permitted these actions? Who raised these people so that they drew such horrific conclusions about the state of the world?


Israel must address the symptoms of its problems, the causes that let madmen commit violent acts. It must continue in a free and open discussion, so as to quell the irrational worries and fears of the radical right. Without this two-way discussion, the radicals will assume that dialogue is hopeless, and will resort to increasingly drastic acts.

As a postscript, perhaps it would be educational to remind readers that Thomas Jefferson, Nelson Mandela and Alexander Solzhenitsyn were men who exploited the forum of free speech to attack the "core values" of there states. Ben Shacher's vision would have all these men arrested under charges of edition, as men whose opinions for "outside the permitted parameters" Ben-Shachar provides no answer on how a government can safely distinguish between Nelson Mandela and Timothy McVeigh, both of whom called for the collapse of the state. Devin McLachlan'96