Free Speech, But Only If Its Bilateral

I sense I am in the minority on this (what's new) but I just don't understand the outrage directed at the decision to let Muhammad Khatemi into the US for some speaking engagements.  I guess I am enjoying the spectacle, though, of conservatives attacking McCain-Feingold for limiting free speech and then attacking the state department for letting a former head of state (albeit a fairly crazy one) into the country to, uh, speak.

The letter says that allowing
Mr. Khatemi to visit America "undermines U.S. national security
interests with respect to Iran and the broader Middle East." It also
says permitting Mr. Khatemi's "unrestricted travel through the United
States runs contrary to U.S. priorities regarding homeland security."

Taking the first part of this objection, I suppose they are arguing that granting this person a visa is somehow a reward, and we don't want to reward Iran.  Now, I will confess that Iran sucks, but I don't get how this rewards them or sets back our cause.  Yes, if he was received in the White House or by a prominent government official, I can understand it, and I would oppose doing so.  Besides, when our former head of state Jimmy Carter goes to other countries, the trips always seem to have the opposite effect that people fear here, as he tends to hurt rather than somehow advance his home country's interests every time.

As to the second part, I could understand it if someone had a legitimate concern that this was a terrorist leader and he would be spending his time visiting and organizing terrorist cells, but I have not seen anyone make that claim.  Besides, if I was in the FBI, I would love it if he was here to do that, and would follow him all over the place.  The CIA and FBI often leave known agents in place, because it is much easier to stay on top of the person you know about than the person you don't.  A high profile visit by Khatemi should be the least of our security concerns.

This just strikes me as one of those silly political loyalty tests that Democrats seem to like to conduct on domestic policy and Republicans conduct on foreign policy.  If you let this guy in, you are branded as a supporter of terrorism and fascism and whatever else. 

As I said just two days ago:

I am constantly irritated by efforts to ban a certain speaker from
speaking or to drown out their message with taunts and chanting.  If
you think someone is advocating something so terrible - let him talk.
If you are right in your judgment, their speech will likely rally
people to your side in opposition.  As I like to tell students who want
to ban speakers from campus -- Hitler told everyone exactly what he was
going to do if people had bothered to pay attention.

By the way, in explanation of the title of this post, I was reacting to something quoted from Rick Santorum.  Now, I often hesitate to react to comments by Santorum, because, like Howard Dean and a few others, he is sort of a human walking straw man.  But here goes:

On it, Mr. Santorum, who
has cut his deficit against his Senate challenger in Pennsylvania to
single digits, wrote that he should be granted a visa only if Iran
allows their people to hear "free American voices."

Mr. Santorum wrote: "We should insist, at a minimum, that the
Iranian people can hear free American voices. Iran is frightened of
freedom. They are jamming our radio and television broadcasts and
tearing down television satellite dishes in all the major cities of the
country. It seems only fair that we be able to speak to the Iranians
suffering under a regime of which Muhammad Khatemi is an integral part."

So now are we going to allow people free speech only if their country does so in a bilateral manner?  All you Americans of North Korean, Chinese, Iranian, Saudi Arabian, Venezuelan, etc. decent, Beware!   This logic betrays a theory of government that rights don't extend from the fact of our existence, but are concessions granted by the government.  By this logic, people have free speech only as long as the government allows it, and the government has the right to trade away an individual's free speech as a part of a negotiation.    


  1. Tom Van Horn:

    Well, Coyote. I think it's a problem for two reasons.

    1) There are a bunch of folks in the State Dept. and the CIA who are at odds with the White House (see Armitage, Richard and Powell, Colin and Plame, Valerie for previous examples). It has been suggested that this visa was approved specifically to embarass the White House. Now, why Condi doesn't cancel it, I don't know, but if that is the reason for the approval, it's not a good one.

    2) More important than that is the signal it sends to enemies. Let's assume for a moment that we all agree--even Dick Cheney--that free speech is a good thing. It is there in the Constitution, and we like the Founders, so let's stick with it. Well, that says this guy ought to be able to talk if he's here. But he's not. I'm not familiar with guidelines for issuing visas, but I suspect the decision to grant them is based on criteria including supporting/not supporting terrorism, etc. The issue is not free speech. The issue is why or why not grant the guy the visa. Who made that decision, based on what criteria, and why? And, if bringing him here hurts the US in its relations with the Middle East and Iran or hurts its stature, negotiating position, etc., then why is it so important to bring him here?

    He could simply start a blog just like you...

  2. JoshK:

    This guy is a former representative of an evil regime that has supported terror groups which have killed large numbers of US Soldiers and citizens. They have slaughtered internal disenters and non-conforming religions. Allowing him to enter into our country and then spending USD $ to pay for his protection while here is a Carteresque spineless way to make a point of highlighting our inaction. Let's wait until they allow Dick Cheney to do a speaking tour of their universities.

  3. markm:

    My one concern is whether this guy has such a previous record that we ought to be seeking his arrest and trial. If he's personally responsible for terrorism, or if he was involved in taking diplomats hostage[1], I'd still be happy to see him getting a chance to speak here - after the prosecution rests.

    [1] They violated the only true principle of international law - don't mess with diplomats. That principle has stood since the Roman Republic, because violating it is in no one's interests except barbarians with no interest in ever making peace.

  4. Jerry:

    Who were the first terrorists, to use bombs, well find it out here, it were French ROYALISTS,

  5. honestpartisan:

    This isn't necessarily relevant to the free speech point being made here, but in regard to the commenters, Khatami was a reformer who was trying to move Iran away from being a theocracy. It seems to me that it's in the U.S.'s national security interests to give him a platform.