Wednesday, 4 June 2003
Several months ago, before the U.S. invaded Iraq, I went online and bought several bumper stickers that said, "Attack Iraq? NO!" The day they arrived I put them on my car. The next day I went to work and then drove to a restaurant for lunch. When I came out afterwards, someone had written "FAG!" in black marker on my bumper sticker. I was a little taken aback by this, wondering if I should draw any conclusions about the correlation between homophobes and support for the war. Perhaps not, I thought. How should I respond to such a ridiculous assault on my free speech rights? Though I had an extra one (actually several), I left the defaced bumper sticker on my car for a couple of weeks, hoping that at least a few other drivers would see the relative "intelligence" of some of those opposed to the war. After awhile, though, I replaced the sticker with a new one.
A few days ago, the war over, I went to the doctor's office, and when I came out, I found a note on my windshield with the following words: "How many Americans & Iraqis were killed because of the protest by you & the French!" The message was written on the back of a lottery ticket (the author of the message didn't win any money), and again I tried to restrain drawing any conclusions about the sort of person who would have the gall to leave a message on my car in response to a bumper sticker. This time, though, I knew the proper response to the message that my detractor left me. How many people were killed because of my protest--and that of the French? Exactly zero. And if the U.S. and British governments had listened to the protests of the countless American, British, French, Spanish, and other citizens, no Americans or Iraqis would have been killed at all in the ill-conceived invasion of Iraq.
The messages that people have left me because of my bumper stickers has made me think about the kinds of people who would be so audacious as to react vehemently--and in writing--to another person's exercise of free speech. I'll admit that I've often made disparaging comments about people's bumper stickers or license plate frames, especially those that prominently display the Confederate battle flag. However, I've never seriously considered defacing the person's sticker, or even leaving them a note informing them of their racism. Why is it that the further to the right people are, the more willing they seem to be to express their opinions loudly and unabashedly?
Some of my friends didn't want to put an anti-war bumper sticker on their car for fear of abuse, either to their car or to themselves. I wonder how many right wingers worry about expressing their opinions on their cars? My guess is, not very many. It's a good thing that liberals aren't perceived as a threat either to inflict bodily harm or to inhibit free speech. However, it's more than a little ironic that so many right wingers, many of whom plaster their cars with the American flag, are so contemptuous of the freedom of expression for which the flag stands.
So what's the solution? I don't advocate defacing right wing bumper stickers, but maybe we liberals need to learn not to be so timid in expressing our opinions. With the Iraq war now past, I'm on the lookout for my next bumper sticker. (How about "Attack Iran? NO!"?) If past experience is any indication, though, I'd better make sure to buy a few spares.
© Copyright 2003, Progressive Theology