So Much for Freedom of Speech

12/10/2007 02:48 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Freedom of Speech and separation of church and state were the two most important reasons why I came to the United States from Iran on my own when I was sixteen. I remember the time when I was playing basketball with friends at my middle school while wearing a shirt with "U.S.A." on it; I got called to the sideline by the "discipline official" at school and asked if I could refrain from wearing that shirt again. He asked me, "Have you ever seen an American wear a shirt with "Iran" on it?" I thought to myself, "No. But he can if he chooses to." I said "No sir."

But I came to the United States only to find that the idea that I would be able to criticize something or someone and always be afforded an objective ear was an illusion. It is true that we are legally allowed to say just about anything short of openly calling for the assassination of the president. But there are nonetheless thousands of groups that constantly attempt to control you and keep themselves immune from criticism by directly and indirectly questioning your character as the critic.

When I questioned whether going to war was in the best interest of the United States, I was called "unpatriotic." When I criticized my fellow democrats on campus, I got called a "conservative." When I criticized capitalism, republicans called me "socialist." When I criticized feminists for refusing to allow men to join their organization (or for anything else for that matter), I was called a "male chauvinist." I wonder if they know that I moved on after college to volunteer 20 hours a week on the board of NOW in Chicago and participated in fighting for equality, an opportunity that I was not given on my own campus. Following college, I made the argument that while Iran is a repressive state the regime of which I didn't support, the country did have the legal right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium. I got called an "apologist for Iran" instead of getting my arguments addressed. And God forbid should one dare to criticize Israel or AIPAC in America. You are instantly labeled an "anti-Semite;" if you are Jewish, then you must be a "self-hating Jew."

I have unfortunately noticed the disturbing usage of a series of terms from the Hillary Clinton campaign and supporters who seek to diffuse any criticism of her - legitimate or otherwise. When she was first criticized for dancing around a question about immigration at the Philadelphia debate instead of answering it, many of her supporters first accused Tim Russert of being "biased," and then moved on to call criticisms "sexist." "Boys have been rough on her," Bill Clinton said following the debate. But I have more recently been observing the systematic usage of a new term - "Hillary Haters" - which the campaign has been attaching to her critics who are accused of taking a pleasure in "bashing" her.

This is hardly a new tactic designed to help the criticized party avoid actually having to address criticisms by implying that there is some sort of personal deficiency on the part of people who are making the criticisms. There is a major difference between criticizing - which is what I often hear from people who disagree with Hillary - and hating. Hating is personal; it has an element of irrationality, prejudice and ugliness to it. And it implies a personal flaw on the part of a person who is accused of doing the "hating." By implying this personal flaw, the criticized party also claims that it is hence unnecessary to address any of the criticisms because the charges made against the candidate are not rooted in reason, but hatred. While that may seldom be the case, the vast majority of the charges this blogger has read or heard toward Ms. Clinton are neither sexist nor rooted in hatred. They are rather the result of the actions that only she is accountable for.

One such legitimate criticism is based on the fact that while Hillary Clinton claims "experience," she and John Edwards have served in public office shorter than anyone else on the Democratic side. Therefore, making the criticism that she is falsely claiming experience without explaining what definition of the word "experience" would leave her the person with the most of it is a legitimate problem and one that she has not addressed. Another legitimate criticism is her inability to fulfill her task of implementing universal healthcare during President Clinton's first half of first term when Democrats were in control of the White House and both the House and the Senate, which is not only a proof of her inability to reach compromise but also an indication of the kind of melodramatic politics that America is likely to go through again if she is elected to the Oval Office because of her baggage from the 90s. A third legitimate criticism that has been left unanswered by those who instead resort to calling critics "hater" is that throughout the presidential debates, she has repeatedly refused to give straight answers to straight questions. Her supporters also have not answered the question, "when did it become acceptable for a democrat to not only plant questions in town hall meetings, but to have a systematic way of doing so using pre-typed questions for different age groups and demographics? Is this the kind of party we have become?" It doesn't sound like a hateful question at all.

Another criticism that she has not addressed is that because of her vote for the war - which is now the most critical issue on which democrats can win the election because of the war's unpopularity - how can we vote for her or John Edwards in the primaries without thinking that as soon as either one begins to make the case to bring our troops home, the republican frontrunner can say that she or he voted for the war. Isn't this the issue that hurt John Kerry and earned him the label "flip-flop"? Should we lose another election by supporting another candidate who can be defeated the same way? She has also not addressed the statistical fact that she is going through the election cycle with the highest negative - people who, for whatever reason, say that they cannot bring themselves to vote for her - than any other candidate on either side? How can we send someone into the general election without thinking the weak position we are putting ourselves in? How can we trust her in bringing the country together? These are not questions that come from "haters," but legitimate criticisms from people within her own party who are trying to decide who can be the best person who can win the election in 2008 and have not had their criticisms addressed yet.

Whether the labels are designed to question the legitimacy and character of the people who are making the criticisms or divert attention under the guise of political correctness from the need for her to address these criticisms, Clinton supporters have exclusively engaged in name-calling on the democratic side instead of addressing the legitimate criticisms that are made against their candidate. It is only by consciously observing this pattern that we can call them out on it and refuse to cave from demanding answers that she has to give if she wants to be considered as the Democratic Party's nominee.