06/20/2009 11:14 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Censorship Is Wrong: Let Max Speak!

Anyone who scans my prior Huffington Posts will quickly see that the common thread in most of them, is how counterproductive the post 9-11 "war on terror" has been; how it served to increase terrorism and violent acts in the world and was quickly turned into a war on dissent and on civil liberties within our own country. As HuffPost readers are, by now, well aware, the myriad of ways in which this has occurred include through the unjustified invasion of Iraq; reliance on military weapons; post 9-11 massive collections of data on citizens; warrantless surveillances; resort to torture; extraordinary renditions and indefinite detentions; attempts at curtailment of First Amendment rights and political repression during "national special security events" here in the U.S.

Censorship has even reared its ugly head a time or two in the Twin Cities. In October of 2007 we were stunned when we opened our Twin City newspapers to find Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu had been banned from speaking on the campus of one of our major (albeit private) Minnesota universities. The University of St. Thomas had disinvited Tutu, even though he's considered one of the most important voices responsible for peacefully ending apartheid in South Africa but also one of the strongest continuing voices for peaceful change and reconciliation in the world. Moreover, St. Thomas officials had gone so far as to demote the director of their Peace and Justice Studies program who had invited Tutu to speak.

After the shock wore off, many Twin Cities residents realized this type of academic censorship was terribly wrong and went into action. The head of St. Thomas received hundreds of complaint letters from alumni, the public and from members of groups like "Jewish Voices for Peace" after it came out that Tutu had apparently been falsely labeled as "anti-Semitic". A friend and I painted a big "Let Tutu Speak" banner and held it in front of the University for three consecutive days. I ended up posting two pieces (here and here) on the Huffington Post about the situation, the second one describing the happy ending when Father Dease, the priest in charge of St. Thomas reversed his decision after a few days and re-invited Desmond Tutu to come speak.


On another occasion, in April 2008, I Huff Posted about some extreme hate talk that aired on a right-wing radio station in Minneapolis that I thought crossed the First Amendment line, inciting violence against people that the radio talk jock claimed were coming to protest the Republican National Convention in September 2008. We complained to the FCC and to local police about this talk show host telling "good ole' boys" to hand out ax handles and to use machine guns to "mow 'em down baby" but, for whatever reason, no official action was taken to stop or even warn the radio talk show host. (It's possible officials thought the threat was not imminent enough since it was made five months in advance of the RNC or maybe they just didn't take the statements seriously. But we have since witnessed a number of hate-based shootings around the country that were at least inspired by such right-wing media statements so I don't think our complaint to the FCC was totally alarmist.)

The point is that adherence to the First Amendment should not only allow but encourage citizens to enjoy the broadest range of free speech. It is admittedly a delicate, tricky balance. While criminal penalties and/or censorship should only be applied under the Constitution to the most imminently and clearly dangerous incitements like "yelling fire in a crowded theater", the antidote to most hate speech is exposing it and subjecting it to more speech, other people's opposing ideas and values, and (hopefully in the case of hate speech) to the wider public's disapproval. That worked to some extent in the case of KTLK's Chris Baker. Although no official action was taken against him, once the offensive portions of his diatribe that April morning were posted on You-Tube and then sent to some of the radio program's advertisers, he seemed to reign in his inflammatory rhetoric (at least for a while).

All of the above background is to explain why I agree (again) with the organization Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) which has begun a campaign demanding YouTube to put Max Blumenthal's video back up. After explaining the background of the "Feeling the Hate" video by Blumenthal and Joseph Dana that was viewed by over 400,000 people before being taken down, JVP suggests people write YouTube to protest their censorship decision:

The night before President Obama spoke in Cairo, Max Blumenthal and Joseph Dana took a video camera to downtown Jerusalem and asked kids on the street - mainly Americans in Jerusalem over the summer - how they felt about Obama. The answers they heard: mainly hardcore racism enhanced by expletives, homophobia, Islamophobia, Arab hatred, and a lot of ignorance. Blumenthal posted a video to YouTube called "Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem on Eve of Obama's Cairo Address". Then, without explanation, YouTube took down the video and has stonewalled all attempts to find out what happened...

YouTube has just announced that it is relaxing some of its guidelines so that videos showing the current events in Iran may be posted. I am asking (You-Tube) to draw upon that same commitment to supporting human rights by returning Max Blumenthal's video and any other similar ones to your site. The extreme views represented in these videos need to be heard and acknowledged so that they can be overcome. Making the videos disappear doesn't make the hateful views expressed in the video disappear, too.

In the same vein, I'd like to humbly suggest that Huffington Post reflect more on these admittedly difficult First Amendment issues and reverse its own prior decision to censor Max Blumenthal's video. Just as Father Dease belatedly recognized back in 2007 after getting so many letters and watching us hold our banner in front of his university, free speech works!