I happen to think Hank Williams Jr. was wrong to compare Barack Obama to Adolph Hitler. In doing so, Bocephus, as he is known to his fans, demonstrated his utter ignorance of history. Whether one agrees with Obama or not, he has not incited his people to round up and kill his own country-folk for being white or non-Christian.
“Better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and prove it so,” said Mark Twain.
But then Hank Williams Jr. is not the first, and likely will not be the last, public figure to demonstrate a lack of familiarity with history.
Or to present a less than flattering report on the actions of the United States.
In 2002, ABC fired Bill Maher from the show “Politically Incorrect” because he suggested the 9/11 highjackers, though morally reprehensible, may not have been as cowardly as Pres. George W. Bush labeled them. They did, after all, stay with the airplanes rather than fire missiles from miles away. It’s pretty easy to disagree with that statement, but censor it?
The following year, the country music group Dixie Chicks declared they were “ashamed [then-Pres. George Bush was] from Texas.” They were strongly anti-war, and much of their soon-to-be-former audience thought them unpatriotic because of it.
But it’s all about the money, and if Williams’ or Maher’s fans turned on them, ESPN and ABC, respectively, stood to lose a lot of it.
Still, censorship is censorship, whether by artists’ fans or government.
A couple years ago, at a high school in South Central Pennsylvania, a group of parents objected to the use in class of a book titled, “Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa,” by Mark Mathabane. The word “Kaffir” is, in South Africa, akin to the English “N-word.” But it wasn’t the title word to which some parents objected. Their fear was aroused by a deviant sexual scene that occupied a part of one page in the tale. No child of theirs should be made aware that children could be treated that way.
In 2010, members of the Aryan Nations NE – American Nazis – marched into a fenced-off area of Gettysburg National Military Park to spout racial epithets at anyone who might hear them. About 200 feet away, a group of young people chanted anti-Ku Klux Klan slogans from behind another fence.
Neither group accomplished much, I thought, except to exercise their right to shout what they wanted to shout without fear they would be arrested for shouting it.
Some time in the early 1990s, a members of a certain church where I lived took to standing on sidewalks in the county seat, loudly proclaiming their belief that a) the world was about to end and b) those who did not respond appropriately were doomed to eternal damnation. Many churches proclaim the same belief; most congregants don’t stand at street-side announcing it.
A group of merchants objected and called on police to persuade the religious proclaimers, by whatever means necessary, to take their beliefs elsewhere. A local newspaper dispatched reporters to canvas surrounding towns to learn how many people agreed the grey clad announcers should be silenced. One reporter showed up at the store where a group of us were holding the morning “town meeting.”
I said then, and I believe now, that I have a right to refuse to listen to objectionable speech.
But when I tell someone to be silent, whether I know that person is wrong or just don’t want to hear the message, then that person has a right to tell me to “shut up.”
Freedom for only some is, in the end, freedom for no one.
History shows with amazing clarity that martyring someone for announcing a disagreeable idea is a remarkably effective way to ensure the message lives a long, if not glorious, life.
Photo by Roel Wijnants
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