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We Can't Repress Opposing Views
Published on Sunday, November 11, 2001 in the Contra Costa Times
We Can't Repress Opposing Views
by Michele Fry
 
AS PEOPLE proclaim to anyone who will listen about their Americanism, many simultaneously stomp on American ideals. The right to express opinions and beliefs is a quintessential American ideal. But when an unpopular opinion is expressed, not only is the opinion ripped, but the person sharing the viewpoint is shredded as well. We who are supposed to embrace individuality instead demand groupthink and cherish gang mentality.

The dominant opinion in any situation always gets its hearing and is well-represented; it's out there and known. The secondary and more obscure opinions deserve airing as well. And they deserve serious audience.

Just because they are less well-established or accepted doesn't mean they don't have valid points. Those other opinions often give us more perspective and a more in-depth knowledge.

Berkeley understands this, the university, the city and their congressional representative speak up. They have the temerity to stick to their peaceful tradtions. I'm glad to see it, to see the people openly discuss how they feel about America engaging in a war. I'm glad to hear people with the guts to say President Bush and his posse are doing an excellent job usurping the Constitution. It's shocking in a sea of presidential approval and makes me step back and ask, "How do you figure?"

And it doesn't matter whether I ever support their contentions. I still respect people who look at situations or problems and ask "What happened?" "Why?" and "What's the best route to take from here?"

I encourage more people to step back and just listen. And I know they're not doing that or the venomous attack Berkeley has withstood wouldn't exist. The city's resolution asked elected representatives to "break the cycle of violence'' and "(bring) the bombings to a conclusion as quickly as possible.'' I remain confused why that raises such ire.

People with opposing views deserve audience. Generally, they aren't crazy, claiming the sky is falling or the end of the world is nigh. Their claims and concerns tend to be based on facts; they may, however, be looking at them from a different angle. Maybe it's an angle we all need to consider.

I admire people who look at situations and problems and ask the tough questions and seek alternative solutions. The city of Berkeley and UC Berkeley students and Rep. Barbara Lee were early in examing our new reality with terrorism. They recognized that you can't complete a puzzle of the world without the pieces that include the United States.

If you're looking for why this happened and how, you're going to have to look at us as well as them.

But upon speaking their minds the response was: Love it or leave it, you traitorous fools. Phooey on you for questioning your perfect government. How can you blame America first?

Berkeley and pacifists nationwide quickly were the victims of jingoism for not cheering on the U.S. bombing response to terrorism. Yet, they did not show themselves to be less patriotic than the rest of the flag-waving country. Their patriotism just looks different. It's hard to tell anything, however, because once they state their opposing position few people on the other side hear the reasoning. Without understanding how they arrived at their position and why they take it, it is impossible to say they do not care about the United States or Americans.

So I'm sad. I see signs of Americans having been brainwashed, and it's not the pacifists. I see disrespect for what the United States really stands for and for the Constitution. Those booing and hissing peace-seekers show a disregard for freedom of speech and a right to protest. They show a disrespect for individuality and independent thinking.

Let me be clear here: It's not a problem that those with the popular view disagree; it's the way they disagree -- without respect for or appreciation of the fact that people are entitled to different views. Different views do not weaken our nation. Calling people names and flogging them verbally, or even physically, does not strengthen our nation.

I'd like to say this I-spit-on-you attitude is not very American, but fear that it is what we're becoming. Be careful though, because when every American is no longer entitled to his or her point of view, we're no longer America. We're China, Cuba, Afghanistan.

Fry is a member of the Times Editorial Board.

© 2001 Contra Costa Newspapers Inc

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