A review of:
"Dissent in Ashcroft's America"
An essay by Patricia Nell Warren
appearing in the January/February, 2004 issue of The Gay and Lesbian ReviewA Node Your Homework Release
This opinion piece in The Gay and Lesbian Review discusses the ways in which political dissenters are treated in the United States. Generally, Warren argues, dissent is punished. She offers evidence of a number of troubling trends in the United States of America, involving sometimes-organized attempts to skirt the spirit (and, in the opinion of many lawyers, the letter), of Constitutional law.
Since the article is focusing on gay issues, Warren starts by reviewing the very recent history of society's (and usually, more specifically, the U.S. or U.S. State governments') attempts to silence gay dissidents, beginning with the criminalization and severe stiffening of penalties for illegal protest, (i.e., protesting in a place, time, or fashion that is not permitted by law). The right to protest peacefully is protected by the letter of Constitutional law, but this is worthless without the backing of the Supreme Court, the Congress, local governments, and ultimately, the American public.
The American people, says Warren, aren't really sold on the idea of free expression at all. They just think they are. Even in the most liberal communities -- even in the gay community -- there is a growing attitude that dissent should be punished if the ideas being expressed are potentially "dangerous". The cases Warren offers as evidence involve issues surrounding AIDS, HIV transmission, barebacking, and questioning of AIDS science, all topics providing plenty of fodder for controversy, even within the American gay community. The same liberal (and gay) activists who endured years of ostracism and government attempts to silence them for their politically incorrect views are now eager to see the same done to dissident voices within the gay community. Gay men who openly question AIDS science are threatened, and if they demonstrate illegally, are likely to suffer much more severe penalties.
Moreover, there is a growing eagerness in the gay community -- and hey, let's be honest; in the GLOBAL community -- to use the word "Terrorist" to label dissenters of any stripe. Suddenly, gay men who admit to having sex without condoms are "terrorists" because they could be spreading lethal HIV. Suddenly, SLAPP suits (Strategic/Selective Lawsuits Against Public Participation) are being used within the gay community over charity fundraisers, effectively resulting in censorship. And suddenly, the gay community is, as Warren says, sharing in "a grim conviction that 'dissenters give aid and comfort to the enemy.'" In light of the new way America is dealing with its dissidents, the annoyingly trite phrase, "The terrorists have already won," comes to mind.
Noam Chomsky points out that, "it is precisely in the case of horrendous ideas that the right of free expression must be most vigorously defended." Even liberal Americans, and even self-identified oppressed Americans, (i.e., self-identified gay Americans), are troublingly eager to silence those who disagree with them.
Well, I mean, after all, it's just easier that way, isn't it?