Standing Up to Fascists?

This summer I enjoyed the rare pleasure of showing off Washington, DC to some German colleagues and friends of mine. Our wanderings took us past the reflecting pool in the shadow of  Lincoln Memorial, past the Korean War Memorial, and the newly opened memorial to those who lost their lives in World War II. Finally, we ended up on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. The area is a perennial place for protesters to exercise“ right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

In this particular instance, one could debate how peaceable the assembly was. The assembly was no doubt an energetic petition for redress of grievances, where people were carrying signs protesting what they decried as a Fascist American government. Not being one to suffer fools easily, I kindly offered to the protesters the observation that the very ability of being able to protest in front of the White House, the home of the US chief executive, graphically undermined their argument. I am not sure they understood my comment, but they certainly did not find it persuasive. I had forgotten the rule that one should not argue with fools for too long for it grants them more credibility than they are entitled to.

I was reminded of this small story when watching the rude Iraqi who took it upon himself to show contempt for President George Bush (and the US incidentally) by throwing shoes at him. The projectiles missed their target largely due to the President’s ninja-like reflexes. The person making the assault has been detained and may yet imprisoned, but by his very act he undermined his own argument. Had the same act occurred during the regime of Saddam Hussein, not only would he have been executed, but so would his family and friends. The revenge would have been sure and swift and brutal [1]. The shoe assailant, Muntazer al-Zaidi, who the New York Times reports sympathized with the Nazi-inspired Baath, would never have dared such an action in the authoritarian state the US liberated.

Perhaps incident is best explained by Iraqi Ambassador Samir Sumaida’ie who challenged Code Pink protesters who would apparently side with and lionize a Nazi so long as he opposed President Bush.

[1] Amir Najmi, Middle East expert, personal communication, December 2008.

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