Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Say what you want-but remember that actions still speak louder than words.

Did our notion of free speech go out the window when Columbia University President, Lee Bollinger introduced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a "a petty and cruel dictator." Granted, Ahmadinejad did say some flamboyant and controversial things-like questioning the Holocaust's impact on Palestine and claiming that there are no homosexuals in Iran-which reminds me of an equally ridicules statement by Bill Clinton claiming there were no gays in the military-but that is another story!

At any rate, I am not supporting Ahmadinejad or Iran in any shape or form, but I am questioning the wisdom of Lee Bollinger's introduction-which if it doesn't undermine our sense of free speech, it certainly seems like it can be selective use of free speech to me.

And while I don't condone the Iranian president, I also don't appreciate Lee Bollinger playing fast and loose with one of the most important tenets of the Bill of Rights.

Here's why: it is clear that most American don't like the things that the Iranian President said and don't like the schemes that they suspect the Iranian people are concocting even as we speak-and that is OK. I am totally concerned with what is going on in the Middle East-and in Asia-and any other place where nuclear weapons are a real threat.

Can we separate what the Iranian government and people are "doing" from who the Iranian people "are".

We need to be able to separate deeds from the people who are doing them or talking about doing them.....just like we do with our kids. You probably always like your kids-although this might be tested at times, but you probably don't like the things that theydo. You might not like what George Bush is doing
in his role as President, but unless you know him, you can't determine if you "like" him.

To put it another way, don't say "I don't like George Bush". Say instead, "I don't like anything that George Bush is doing in the Middle East." You have the right to say what you want(remember Freedom of Speech) but you need to be mindful of the consequences especially when it comes to our kids forming points of view on people.

You may be tempted to shrug this off as just semantics-but words can be weapons, too.

Yesterday, we defined bias, prejudice and discrimination. Today, we need to think about the consequences of our biases and prejudices about Iran and its people and the actions that it might lead us to take. More importantly, we need to be mindful of how our children will interpret our thoughts and actions.

Will they assume that all Iranian people are "bad". Do you want them to make decisions about people based on the actions of one person. How do you square biases and prejudices driven by the Iranian president with the family from Iran that just moved in to the neighborhood.

Equally as important is if you want your children to be judged by the prejudices spewed from the Iranian president. Do you want you new Iranian neighbors to make the assumption that your family-like all Americans-are fatally flawed?

Bias, prejudice and discrimination is a two way street, but we do have the opportunity to evaluate people on a 'one-off' basis by they kind of people they are, by the things that they do-and not just by what they say. And I would venture to guess that we want our children judged by their own merit, not by some stereotypical measures that other ascribe to all Americans.

Person by person and community by community, we need to look beyond the rhetoric-we don't have to agree with, like or respect the rhetoric, but we do need to respect a person's right to their own views.....and decide if we want them in our circles by how they act on their views.

With respect,

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