I Will Defend Your Right to Say Something

Dec 7, 2010
This article is part of a series about Opinion.

“What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s a-happening …”

Remember that? It’s from the 70’s musical Jesus Christ Superstar.

It was a huge hit at the time.

In the scene Jesus is alone with his glory-seeking disciples and they continually cry the repetitious refrain “What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s a-happening. What’s the buzz, tell me what’s a-happening…” while Mary Magdalene seeks to comfort Jesus in the “here and now.”

If you visited that link above to the YouTube video of this song you’ll recall that it started out with soldiers marching forebodingly in formation above the heads of the gathered clan. To the disciples’ gesticulating and rhythmic crying out to know what’s happening, Jesus demands to know what do they really care and accuses them of being obsessed with fighting. He advises them to concentrate on the present, that focusing on the future is futile in the face of “times and fates” that can’t be defied.

Judas then calls Jesus on the carpet for tolerating Mary Magdalene’s simple ministrations in the face of how it might appear to the authorities, excitedly stating:

It doesn’t help us if you’re inconsistent.

They only need a small excuse to put us all away.

Jesus heatedly responds, telling Judas:

Who are you to criticize her?

Who are you to despise her?

Leave her, leave her

Let her be now.

Leave her, leave her

She’s with me now.

If your slate is clean

Then you can throw stones

If it is not

Then leave her alone!

Jesus then throws out more tough love to the gathered disciples telling them that not one of them will stand with him when his hour of need comes upon him.

I’m amazed that men like you

Can be so shallow, thick and slow.

There is not a man among you

Who knows or cares if I come or go.

The disciples go apoplectically into denial at this point. We all know what happens next and who was there at the end to take Jesus down off the cross, but the point I’m trying to elaborately make now has to do with the Helen Thomas crucifixion currently trending everywhere.

Helen Thomas is a 90-year-old woman with a history of service behind her. Wikipedia reports that she is an American author and former news service reporter, member of the White House Press Corps, columnist, and one of the most notable Arab-Americans of her time.

The woman has covered every President of the United States from the last years of the Eisenhower administration until the second year of the Obama administration. She is notorious for asking hard-edged and demanding questions from her front-row seat during White House press conferences.

I should state here that Helen Thomas is the child of Christian immigrants from Lebanon and I am married into a Christian Lebanese family. You may think this is a factor in my views. I do not.

Helen makes people uncomfortable because she puts words to thoughts some people are thinking.

Lots of people don’t like her.

In fact, her alma (1942) mater, Wayne State University today pulled her Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity in the Media Award.

“Wayne State encourages free speech and open dialogue, and respects diverse viewpoints,” the school’s statement said. “However, the university strongly condemns the anti-Semitic remarks made by Helen Thomas during a conference yesterday.”

Here’s my take on this.

I don’t give a rat’s ass that what Helen said might offend people.

I want to hear it.

I want to hear every single side of what’s going on without editorial comment from the bleachers.

I want to know, first hand, what the real buzz is.

There’s something to be said about waiting until a person is dead before handing out awards, but once a thing has been done it’s done and everyone should be left to bear the consequences.

People (and institutions) reveal themselves.

I happen to think Helen’s crusty 90-year-old bluntness is invigorating.

I think what some may call obtuseness is good for the public arena of discussion.

I’ll say it very plainly here.

Helen Thomas has the right to say whatever she wants to, whenever she wants to, wherever she wants, to whomever she wants to about whomever she wants to.

Her expressions may not be my own but at least it lets me know there are people in the world who think like she does.

THIS is the real menace in coming down hard and punishing (censoring) someone like Helen.

People clam up.

They go underground.

They get subversive.

Frustration, anger, hostility builds.

They stew, plot and plan.

The world becomes less interesting.

It also becomes more dangerous.

Before you know it, bombs are going off in public places.

I may (or may not) agree with what she says but damn it, last time I checked she had every right in the world to say it.

You know that old saying that one should not talk about politics (or religion) in polite society?

I say rubbish to that.

When we can sit down at one table or stand toe to toe and discuss politics (or religion) without someone blowing their lids after five minutes, THEN we’ll have a polite society.

Not before.

Thomas is on to something when she told the Detroit Free Press in an article published today that the leaders of Wayne State University “have made a mockery of the First Amendment and disgraced their understanding of its inherent freedom of speech and the press.”

Yes, I’m comparing Helen Thomas to Mary Magdalene.

Yes, I’m comparing Helen’s judges to Judas Iscariot.

Yes, I’m comparing every single idiot one of us who thinks Helen should be savaged for her diverse frankness to the noisy disciples Jesus accused of being obsessed with fighting; the fracas unthinking mob who swerve and sway to popular public opinion.

What Wayne State University is saying is they won’t defend Helen’s right to say something.

I will.

Will you?

This article is part of a series about Opinion.
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