by Rep. Ron Paul, MD
by Rep. Ron Paul, MD
US House of Representatives, October 28, 2003
Mr. Speaker, I rise with great concerns over this legislation — both over its content and what it represents. First, I think it is absurd that the United States Congress believes it has the responsibility and authority to rectify the inappropriate statements of individuals in foreign countries. Have we moved beyond meddling in the internal affairs of foreign countries — as bad as that is — to even meddling in the very thoughts and words of foreign leaders and citizens? Is it the obligation of the United States Congress to correct the "wrong thoughts" of others that have nothing to do with the United States? Additionally, is it our place to demand that other sovereign states, such as the members of the European Union, react as we say they must to certain international events?
More troubling than what is stated in this legislation, however, is the kind of thinking that this approach represents. The purpose of this legislation is to punish inappropriate thoughts and speech — to freeze debate on difficult topics and issues. In this, it contains a hint of totalitarian thinking. This legislation advances the disturbing idea that condemnatory speech that does not explicitly incite violence is nevertheless inherently dangerous. It asserts that even debating controversial topics inevitably leads to violence. This is absurd on its face: it is only debate that leads us to come to understandings over controversial topics without violence. That is why nations engage in diplomacy.
Those who feel aggrieved over an issue can either broach the issue through discussion and debate or they can attempt to address the grievance through the barrel of a gun. Which is preferable? I think the answer is self-evident. Once persuasion is taken from the realm of possibility, the only approach left to address grievances is violence.
Is the prime minister of Malaysia wrong in his statements? Debate him. Invite him to one of the various multilateral gatherings with someone who disagrees with him and have a debate and discussion over the issue. This approach is much more likely to result in a peaceful resolution of the dispute than what we are doing here: a blanket condemnation and a notice that certain difficult issues are not subject to any inappropriate thoughts or statements. This is chilling for a nation that prides itself on its tradition of protecting even the most distasteful of speech.
Dr. Mahathir has long been known for his statements on the Middle East. His views are no secret. Yet even President Bush, who invited Prime Minister Mahathir to Washington in May, 2003, chose the path of debate over blanket condemnation. President Bush said at a joint press conference that, "we'll also talk about the Middle East, and I look forward to hearing from the Prime Minister on the Middle East. So we'll have a good discussion."
Abandoning our beliefs and traditions — especially those regarding the right to hold and express even abhorrent thoughts and ideas — when it comes to our foreign relations is hardly the best way to show the rest of the world the strength of our system and way of life.
A careful reading of the prime minister's speech did not find any explicit calls for violence. Actually, Dr. Mahathir called for Muslims around the world to cease using violence to seek their goals. He stated, "is there no other way than to ask our young people to blow themselves up and kill people and invite the massacre of more of our own people?" Also, he advises against "revenge" attacks and urges Muslims to "win [the] hearts and minds" of non-Muslims including "Jews...who do not approve of what the Israelis are doing." While we may agree or disagree with the cause that Dr. Mahathir espouses, the fact that he calls for non-violent means to achieve his goals is to be commended rather than condemned. This is not to agree with every aspect of his address — and certainly not to agree with some of his deplorable statements — but rather to caution against the kind of blanket condemnation that this legislation represents. Do we not also agree with his words that Muslim violence in the Middle East has been counterproductive? President Bush himself in May invited Dr. Mahathir to the White House to, in the president's words, "publicly thank the Prime Minister for his strong support in the war against terror."
I strongly believe that we need to get out of the business of threatening people over what they think and say and instead trust that our own principles, freedom and liberty, can win out in the marketplace of ideas over bigotry and hate. When the possibility of persuasion is abandoned, the only recourse for the aggrieved is violence. Haven't we seen enough of this already?
Dr. Ron Paul is a Republican member of Congress from Texas.