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“Freedom of speech” has become the first refuge of a scoundrel. Meet three: Amiri Baraka, Tom Paulin and Lynne Stewart. Each spouts unpopular views. Baraka writes that Israelis had advance knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks. Paulin writes that American Jewish settlers in the West Bank should be shot. Stewart writes that the attacks on the World Trade Center were justified “armed struggle.” Each enjoys a special governmental or academic perch from which to spew his or her views. And, when his or her right to receive special treatment is challenged, each scoundrel indignantly invokes freedom of speech. The fact that anyone takes their complaints seriously (and many, especially among the academic and media elite, do) teaches us much about the true nature of freedom of speech in the perilous first decade of the 21st century. Amiri Baraka, once known as Leroi Jones, receives $10,000 a year as the poet laureate of New Jersey. To lawyers, $10,000 may not be a lot of money, but it is more than many poets see for their work. And it is $10,000 paid for, not by Baraka’s fans, but by state taxpayers, whether they like, loathe, or feel indifferent toward his work. Many of those taxpayers were unhappy to read this passage from his poem “Somebody Blew Up America”: Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed. Who told 4,000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers to stay home that day. Why did Sharon stay away? Baraka’s sentiment is, of course, a lie. The first victim of the World Trade Center bombing was an Israeli passenger on the doomed American Airlines Flight 11. He stood up to the hijackers and was stabbed. His brave stand was reported by cell phone by a flight attendant, moments before their plane crashed into the North Tower. Dozens of American Jews and at least seven Israelis working at the World Trade Center perished in its collapse. Ever since Sept. 11, the despicable lie that Jews had advance warning of the attacks, and stayed away from the Center, has spread. We expect government-subsidized journalists in the Middle East to aid the progress of that lie. But we don’t expect government-subsidized journalists in this country to do so. No one has called for silencing Baraka. But many have called for removing him from his privileged post as poet laureate. “We’ll fight this,” Baraka responded, in an interview with the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger. “We’ll go to the Supreme Court. The only thing they’ll do is put me in a position to defend the rights of poets and the First Amendment.” As offensive as his poetry may be, Baraka’s First-Amendment charlatanry is even more galling. Baraka’s free speech has never been threatened. He can spew all the lies he wants. So may ordinary citizens. But most ordinary citizens do not serve as poets laureate, nor do they receive state subsidies. They do not bemoan their deprivation by brandishing the First Amendment in protest. Now consider Tom Paulin, a poet from Ulster. He doesn’t like American Jews who settle in the West Bank (where Jews have lived for millennia). He expressed his dislike to the Egyptian government newspaper Al-Ahram: “They should be shot dead. I think they are Nazis, racists. I feel nothing but hatred for them.” Paulin’s anti-Semitism carries over to his poetry, in which he vows, none too subtly, that “we � dumb goys” will no longer being taken in by the “weasel” language of the Zionists. As with Baraka, Paulin has a right to his views, and it certainly makes sense for him to share those views with the Egyptian media. The editors of Al-Ahram, after all, are the same hacks who published Adel Hamooda’s “Jewish Matzah is Made of Arab Blood,” among countless other anti-Semitic screeds. When Paulin was invited by the English department of Harvard University to give the annual Morris Gray Lecture, eyebrows were raised. Ironically, Harvard Law School is in the midst of debating a “speech code” to censor “insensitive” exchanges in classrooms. Some thought it insensitive to bestow such an honor upon a writer who calls for shooting Jews, particularly at a time when so many Jews are being shot. But no sooner had the English department retracted the invitation, than the “free speech” protests predictably arose. Harvard being Harvard, Paulin was promptly reinvited. Discussing the reinvitation, Professor Peter Sacks told The Boston Globe: “Free speech was a principle that needed upholding here. This was a clear reaffirmation that the department stood strongly by the First Amendment.” Well, no it wasn’t. Whatever the reinvitation clearly reaffirmed, the First Amendment had nothing to do with it. No one at Harvard said that Paulin should be barred from expressing his opinion that American-born Jews “should be shot dead” — not even the grieving relatives of those who have been. The issue was whether Paulin should receive the honor — shared by such Nobel Prize-winning luminaries as Seamus Heaney and Anthony Hecht — of delivering a prestigious lecture. Such an honor is a privilege, not a right, a linguistic distinction apparently lost on the Harvard English department. Now meet Lynne Stewart, a radical attorney. In 1995, she defended Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, later convicted as the mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing. Defending terrorists is certainly no sin. On the contrary, defending the unpopular is essential to our legal system. But Stewart did not merely defend the sheik. She publicly endorsed his brand of violent Islamic fundamentalism as “the only hope for change [in Egypt], the one that gathers the imagination of the people, that motivates them.” The sheik’s movement also murders Christian Copts and moderate Muslims in Egypt. In 2001, she described the incineration of innocent office workers in the World Trade Center as “armed struggle.” Of the action of the incinerators, she confessed that she had “a lot of trouble figuring out why that is wrong, especially when people are sort of placed in a position of having no other way.” Stanford Law School in its wisdom decided to invite Stewart to speak at a weekend conference as the David W. Mills Public Interest Visiting Mentor. As a Mentor, Stewart would receive a $1,000 stipend and reimbursement for her expenses. Stewart told The New York Times that the victims in the World Trade Center “took it personally. And actually, it wasn’t a personal thing.” Some people at Stanford took the invitation personally. They protested the invitation. Stanford being Stanford, Stewart was still invited to speak with all expenses paid — but the stipend was withdrawn. When she learned that she was being deprived of the stipend, Stewart went into victim mode. Her Web site (LynneStewart.org) is a monument of self-manufactured martyrdom. The front page depicts a smiling Stewart caught in the cross hairs of some imaginary weapon, while she clutches the Constitution protectively. There is a link to a page entitled “Information on Lynne Being Censored by the Dean of Stanford University Law School.” The visitor to that page learns that not only is Stewart’s freedom of speech being violated, but the students too are “experience[ing] the loss of their 1st Amendment Rights.” Why? Because, in the words of Lynne Stewart, they are being deprived of “a brilliant, experienced criminal defense attorney.” But of course Stewart wasn’t censored at all. She came, she spoke, she was lionized by the press. All expenses were paid for by Stanford. She just didn’t get her stipend. In her view, that is censorship. The misadventures of these free speech poseurs would be of little interest if free speech were otherwise secure. But in fact real freedom of speech is under siege today, and writers are facing real threats — not just threats to sinecures. Consider Khaled Abou El Fadl, professor of Islamic jurisprudence at UCLA. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, mainstream writers, taking their cue from President Bush, rejected any connection between Islam and the attacks. Professor El Fadl thought differently. On Sept. 14, 2001, he published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times treating the attacks as an outgrowth of “a puritanical and ethically oblivious form of Islam [that] has predominated since the 1970s.” He criticized the “rampant apologetics” of Muslim thinkers for “produc[ing] a culture that eschews self-critical and introspective insight and embraces projection of blame and a fantasy-like level of confidence and arrogance.” Now Professor El Fadl receives threatening, anonymous phone calls at his home and office. He has been followed. The windows of his car were smashed — but, ominously, nothing was taken, and no other cars in the lot were touched. UCLA has installed a “panic button” on his desk, so that campus police can respond instantly to any attacks. When he traveled to Qatar to debate the morality of suicide bombing, the State Department arranged for bodyguards to maintain a constant watch over him. Consider Isioma Daniel, the Nigerian newspaperwoman who, in a weak attempt at humor, wrote that Mohammed might approve of the Miss World pageant because he might pick one of his wives from the contestants. Despite an immediate apology from her employer, enraged Muslims attacked and burned down the newspaper’s office, then set about killing Christians and burning churches. Daniel herself has been sentenced to a “fatwa” by the local religious authorities, meaning that any Muslim is authorized to murder her. Reportedly, she has fled to the United States, living somewhere in anonymous seclusion. Khaled Abou El Fadl and Isioma Daniel have not complained that a state or university has withdrawn a stipend. They are too concerned with staying alive. But in a society so adroit at finding victims, why are they left adrift? Why aren’t the free speech guardians of Harvard and Stanford in an uproar over the fact that a brother academician has to work with a panic button on his desk? Why aren’t journalists writing columns of outrage over the fact that a colleague has to flee her homeland and give up her profession because of an innocuous wisecrack? For that matter, where are the feminists to defend the rights of a black woman in mortal danger? The modern champions of free speech, like electrical current, follow the path of least resistance. They assail those who are safe to assail. Writers can rail against Jews secure in the knowledge that the Anti-Defamation League will not smash their cars or burn their homes. It is equally safe to accuse John Ashcroft of trampling the Constitution. Many writers do just that, and they sleep very soundly because they know that Ashcroft will not put them in jail for their views. It is safe for feminists to blast the Augusta Country Club for excluding women members. They know that the president of the club will not stone them. Today, in this country and throughout much of the world, freedom of speech is at real risk. To protect it will take more than the courage of convenience. It will require raw, physical courage. It is doubtful that the nation’s academic and media centers can muster that kind of courage, accustomed as they are to play-acting at protecting free speech. If the courage is to be found, it will have to be found elsewhere. Contributing writer Lawrence J. Siskind, of San Francisco’s Harvey Siskind Jacobs LLP, specializes in intellectual property law.

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