The heckler's veto

Recently, the Minuteman Project held a meeting in Las Vegas. You might recall these are the volunteers who are concerned about the government’s failure to adequately secure our borders, and took it upon themselves to patrol and report illegal aliens entering the country. Naturally, the idea of people taking responsibility for their nation’s security has the usual suspects in a lather. At this meeting, these protesters showed up shouted, waved accusatory signs (“racism” was the most common theme), raised foreign flags, and in general proved such a menace that the police on hand (vastly outnumbered) had to keep the Minutmen from going outside and meeting with the protesters, or making any sort of public statement or presence of their own to counter the charges.

This is a common occurrence these days. Peopple are discouraged or openly prevented from acting in perfectly legal manners out of concern that they may provoke an extreme response.

The common term for this is “the heckler’s veto.” And it, unfortunately, is widely recognized around the world.

In Italy, noted author (and dying cancer victim) Oriana Fallacci is facing trial on criminal charges. Her offense: writing a book that “defames Islam.” The specific charges of defamation are spelled out here.

In Europe, a noted politician (Pym Fortuyn) and a noted filmmaker (Theo Van Gogh) have been murdered, and a noted author (Salman Rushdie) lives under a death sentence. Their offenses: “defaming Islam.” Others have noted the consequences of speaking their minds, and have learned the wisdom of shutting up instead of challenging the Islamic mobs.

And it just isn’t Islam that practices this tactic. Some of the far left have adopted it, but in a less-violent fashion. Several noted conservatives have had their speeches disrupted by pie-wielding assailants, and Pat Buchanan was nailed with salad dressing at an appearance. (OK, that one I can almost condone.)

One aphorism that bears far more attention is that “the best answer to bad speech is more speech.” I’ve argued before that suppression is often counterproductive; it tends to rouse the “forbidden fruit” syndrome and often spreads the suppressed notion far faster than any other response. But I can’t let the pragmatic argument overshadow the moral; it is just plain wrong. It’s a simple application of might makes right, that the loudest and most violent voices can and should prevail.

And it all boils down to one simple question to the hecklers: just what are you so afraid of that you are willing to go to such extremes to keep people from hearing? Why do you doubt your own ability to answer and refute the argument?

But it is just so much easier to shout them down. Or throw a pie at them. Or just kill them.

Morning Blend
Take Me Out To The Ballgame


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