Even before Iran President Mohamed Ahmedinejade spoke at Columbia University last week, all hell broke lose because Columbia president, Lee Bollinger took the daring and perhaps the fatal step to invite the president of Iran to speak enraging the very powerful pro-Israel groups in the New York City and around the country.
With the exception of Great Britain, and without doubt no country in the world come close to American when it comes to certain rights guaranteed by our Constitution especially the First Amendment Rights of speech and association and of course assembly. However these rights though guaranteed to us as citizens do not mean that we can be heard or have a chance to be heard or assemble without prior authorizations.
Many restrictions do apply now, by the current Bush Administration which justifies its attacks on civil liberties as part of it war on terror. We need to keep in mind that the First Amendment right of free speech applies to restrict the Federal and state governments from prohibiting or legislating limitations on the rights of free speech.
That is why Free Speech as we do know it in the US does not means and it does not guarantee that we as citizens have the opportunity to be heard or that we have a right to appear on public or private television or the radio or to have our ideas and opinions expressed in the editorial pages of newspapers like the Washington Post or the New York Times. Freedom of Speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment does not mean and it does not give us a right to appear on CNN or on Fox News or to even have a chance to rebuttal any statements written or heard. That Freedom of Speech is guaranteed only to those who owns the media and is guaranteed to those who have influence and who can make heads fly.
As such while there is right vis-à-vis the government, there are no rights of Freedom of Speech that allows different ideas to compete and appear on the airways. That is why the media and those who control the media are in fact the Fourth Branch of government, though not elected and of course non-accountable to any one. They make or break a politician or an official and they can promote, lobby and push for policies if not formulate and dictate public policies. Yes, we need to amend the US Constitution to give us the right of Free Speech this time guaranteeing to us that the Fourth Branch allows us to be heard and of course allows competing ideas to air on the public airways. The War on Iraq was a war promoted and sponsored by the media.
In the US Free Speech is guaranteed to the network and the media and those behind them and those who owns them and of course the ideologue who power them. Average citizen have no chance at free speech. Even if they attempt to strand up in Public Park or in a city corner they will not be guaranteed that they can speak and be heard. That of course requires a permit, and given the state of emergency we have in the US and given the very power pro-Israel group had, it is very unlikely that any one not on the side of Israel have a chance to speak or be heard.
On would imagine that a country like ours have the courage to have someone like President Mohammed Ahmedinejade to speak and be heard. His initiation may end up costing Lee Bollinger his job, since he dared to challenge the Pro-Israeli groups and invite someone like the president of Iran to speak. Campus Watch already control and manage speech and discussions within the campus class room, now they want to even prohibit free speech outside the class room.
Of course Lee Bollinger trying to appease the powerful forces that will get his dead, sooner than later, wanted to make up to them by making some very insulting and rude and defamatory remarks against Ahmedinejad even before he had a chance to speak. One would imagine that in a country like ours where we are proud of our sense of civility were challenging the guests on his ideas but not take personal insults. That is not the standard we like to have from the president of a university, Insults and rude remarks are left to the likes of Bill O'Reilly who became somebody because they are rude, nasty , obscene, and insult is their trade mark and value system.
Perhaps it is time for all universities and colleges to declare a "Jefferson Corner" a Free Speech Zone where any one and every one can stand up on a soap box and make a speech. No one can guarantee he/she will make sense or have any one listen to, but at least they can exercise the right of free speech.
Why not every town and city in the nation designate certain parks and certain areas within those parks as Free Speech zone, where there is no need to apply for a permit or get license from the police. Simply let people stand up and talk. This in my opinion will fulfill the objective envisioned by the US Constitution and gives us average citizen a fair chance against the big guns of the Fourth Branch. What is the use of free speech if one could not exercise it or have others hear it.