May 102009
 
Authors: Ian Bezek

As a columnist, I, more than most, appreciate the right to free speech in America. Despite my criticism of our nation, I am still eternally grateful to live here. What my fellow columnists and I say on the Collegian’s opinion page on a weekly basis would constitute a prosecutable offense in many, if not most, other countries of the world.

I was reminded of just how precious our freedoms are this week when Britain, normally a tolerant nation, decided to greatly infringe upon the rights of certain controversial people.

The British government decided last week to create a list of people that were banned from entering their country. There were quite a few predictable persons banned such as Russian skinheads, extremist Muslim clerics and terrorist sympathizers.

However, one name stood out. Michael Weiner, more commonly known by his pen name Michael Savage, was included on the list of people banned from entering the nation of Britain.

For those unfamiliar with Savage, he is a right-wing commentator, radio host and best-selling author whose political views and style are reminiscent of a more educated Rush Limbaugh.

Savage has said a lot of things that I disagree with over the years; his view of the Muslim community is just plain primitive.

That said, is he any kind of threat to Britain? Clearly not. Despite being exposed to 20 years of often polarizing and frequently unpleasant views, America’s social fabric has not collapsed despite a surge in the popularity of talk radio.

Savage has never advocated violence on his show, nor has he ever urged anyone to illegally act upon his lead. While he has said a lot of extreme things that have offended many people including myself, he has not done anything illegal.

He has received a broad range of support from commentators of all stripes across our nation. Despite Savage’s unwavering commitment to opposing gay rights and his fierce devotion to shutting the border with Mexico, even liberal groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union have come to his defense after Britain’s outrageous action.

It simply is wrong for a nation to ban a man from entering their country because they don’t like what he says. While Britain has a right to exclude whomever they wish, they should be ashamed of themselves for this action.

If they choose to exclude anyone with a contrary view, they will invariably lurch down the path that Britain’s own George Orwell warned so famously of in his classic book “1984.”

While Savage’s views are at the fringe of the cultural debate, the precedent of banning anyone your government dislikes is a slippery slope.

It’s no surprise that the liberal Labour Party of Britain banned Savage. What happens when the conservatives win again in Britain – are they going to ban Anderson Cooper or Michael Moore from entering Britain in retribution?

The beauty of America’s tolerance is that we allow all views to be expressed while the so-called “marketplace of ideas” sorts out the bad ones.

While Fred Phelps, leader of the inhumane anti-gay picketing group in Kansas, ended up on Britain’s banned list as well, he speaks freely in the U.S.

Do people respect him? No. But by expressing himself, he publicly exposes his bad ideas and he is shamed for them rather than allowing him to foster his hateful views among his friends which could, in turn, grow into a powerful movement of hate.

By exposing his ideas to the world, they are disinfected and neutralized before they can lead to actual harm.

Though thankfully the Collegian has no extremists on our staff like Phelps, as next year’s editor of the Collegian’s editorial page, I will make sure that we carry on the tradition of exposing alternative viewpoints to our readers. I invite all of you to take part in the discussion as well with your letters – since we aren’t in Britain, feel free to write whatever you wish, no matter how distasteful it may seem.

Editorials Editor Ian Bezek is a junior economics major. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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