Rights we've come to expect
The most basic principle of American democracy
is the right
to criticize government
By Mana Tahaie
November 24, 2003
My essay for a scholarship
competition was published in iranian.com under the title, "Persian
spirit". I thought this one, three years later,
would interest you as well. The topic was "What Does the
Future Hold for the First Amendment: Will Our Rights Survive?" It
was for a free expression congress held by freedom of information
In 1982, my parents immigrated to the US. They
escaped Iran when a totalitarian government at war prohibited
leaving, when terror wasn't a political buzzword but a
perpetual state of being. My mother was six months pregnant and
hid it behind a fur coat, lest she jeopardize their chances of
obtaining a visa.
Their story is similar to many immigrant stories:
tired of an oppressive government, in search of a better life,
they came to the U.S. hoping to live the American Dream. Given
that their only intention was to leave Iran, they could have
gone to any number of countries -- and, considering the ubiquitous
animosity toward Iranians in the U.S. at the time, anywhere
else may have seemed better. But my parents didn't buy the anti-American
hype they were being fed at home. They had faith in American
It was, in essence, the First Amendment that attracted
them. Leaving a theocracy, they desired a place in which they
freely practice any religion -- or none at all. They wanted
to be free from restrictions on their private lives, to live
as they wished, and to speak freely. I grew up hearing stories
of the 1979 revolution, how they had no rights in a government
that claimed to be acting for their own good, and how the
climate of oppression forced them to live in fear.
Recent Bush Administration policy is alarming
in its attempts to weaken the First Amendment. The language used
deliberately fosters an atmosphere of fear, to undermine
people's rights. The Administration has taken advantage
of the current
climate to quietly pass several laws -- namely, the Patriot
Act and similar policies -- which threaten to strip Americans
of their constitutional right to free speech.
In April I helped organize a peace rally on campus.
Two weeks ago an organization I founded began campaigning to
the School of Americas. In both instances, people objected
actions and dismissed my opinions as unpatriotic and
un-American. The argument I've received countless times is, "If
you don't like it here, why don't you leave?"
the most basic principle of American democracy is the
to criticize government. The notion that voicing criticism
is itself unpatriotic, because it ignores the concept
of free speech, one of the most fundamental principles upon
country was founded.
Telling an immigrant or first
generation American who disagrees with policy to "go home"
forgets that foreigners, people who came here in search of
founded this nation in order to guarantee their
right to express dissent
and unpopular opinions.
Despite all this adversity, there is a glimmer
of hope: once people no longer feel that they are in imminent
will see more clearly that they are being manipulated
into giving up their constitutional rights. An educated,
will hold on dearly to the rights they've come to expect.
It is every citizen's responsibility to become
aware of the government's agenda, and the media's responsibility
to provide credible and accurate information, unprejudiced
by popularity polls and administrative policy. Free
a self-perpetuating institution: the only way to
it is to exercise it, and the only way to guard it
attempts to eliminate it.
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