On Rashida Tlaib, The Backlash, And The Censure Vote
On Rashida Tlaib, the Backlash, and the Censure Vote
It is troubling to see the treatment of Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib. She was recently censured in Congress for a ‘hurtful” speech. Jewish officials in Michigan accused her of hurtful words.
First, let make it clear. I don’t support Rashida Tlaib. I disagree with her, and I would not vote for her. I think as a voice for Palestinians, she has not been highly effective. But in fairness to her, she is one of 435 members of Congress. There is so much one member of Congress can do, especially when it is challenging the most powerful and effective lobby in the country. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s, The Israel Lobby makes it crystal clear how powerful the Israel lobby is. Not even fifty Rashida Tlaib can change the reality of the Israel lobby dominance on the issue of Palestine.
That being said, it is deeply troubling to see a member of Congress having to apologize for a speech. Apologize for representing her constituency. If a member of Congress who is supposed to speak on political issues cannot speak without being demonized and facing total war, what does that leave to the Arab and Muslim clerk at Walmart? The engineer at Ford Motor Company? Can you have an opinion? Are you allowed to disagree?
This is not about Rashida, or about Gaza or even about Palestine and Israel. At the heart of the matter is the First Amendment. Freedom of Speech is in the First Amendment for a reason. It is the most important. You cannot have a democracy if you do not have freedom of speech. And who needs freedom of speech? Those who say things the majority and the powerful do not want to hear. When you say popular things or things the powerful love to hear, you don’t need the freedom of speech. The majority will clap for you and welcome you. The powerful might give you money. It is when you dissent that the freedom of speech is needed. It is there for dissenters. It is not for the Amen Corner.
The idea of freedom of speech is that there is a marketplace of ideas. I try to convey the importance of freedom of speech to my students. There are often complaints against anti-abortion activists or conservative Christian preachers who come to our campus to share their ideas with our students. We are a public university, and we are not allowed to engage in viewpoint discrimination. I find it odd that those who disagree with the speech gather around the speaker to get more and more upset. Why? Just walk away. You are not a captive audience. Sometimes I wish my students would pay as much attention to what I say in class the way they pay attention to offending speakers.
The US Constitution is the supreme law of the land. September 17 was Constitution Day. I agree with the late Justice Scalia that “we are not teaching it very well.” So many Americans are constitutionally illiterate, do not value basic freedoms and due process rights when it involves the unpopular. We need to learn our Constitution and make sure it that its guarantees do not end up as mere “parchment paper guarantees.”
Dr. Ihsan Alkhatib, Associate Professor, Murray State University
AHRC Advisory Board member