This past weekend, my alma mater Occidental College made the news (yet again) for an incident on its campus. A 9/11 Memorial set up by the Oxy Republican Club was desecrated by person or persons unknown. The club had placed 2997 flags across campus, each to represent those who have died 15 years ago, many of which were found broken and in trash cans.
This incident has been placed into context of larger debates about cultural issues concerning college and freedom of speech and flag worship and nationalism. The past year saw protests emerge on campuses as a response to racism, which then turned into a conversation around “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” – and not much racism. In addition, these past few weeks have seen notable athletes, starting with 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, sitting or kneeling during the National Anthem before games. Just yesterday, Arian Foster and several others took a knee during the anthem, to which some White folks lost their minds to. So, this crude act of vandalism, which probably would’ve been dismissed as an idiot college stunt a few years ago, has made the news cycle as a result of these concurrent events.
So we got a culture war folks! At least until Bill O’Reilly leads his army to fight the War on Christmas again this year.
I’ve written before about the stupidity and hypocrisy of flag worship – or how we elevate a symbol and the garish “Star Spangled Banner” associated with it above the needs of human beings. The issue of institutional racism, which Kaepernick protested, should come at higher priority and inspire outrage more so than some flag we’ll likely change within a century or an antiquated anthem written by a slave owner. I also take issue with uncritical jingoistic 9/11 propaganda that occurs around this time every year. Whether it’s celebrating Bush’s first pitch, the faux admiration for veterans, or endless conspiracy theory documentaries, our unhealthy obsession with 9/11 has been nothing short of an annoyance. After all, our response to these events, such as inanely invading Iraq, eroding civil liberties both here and abroad, and emboldening more anti-Muslim/anti-Arab bigotry, has damaged our international reputation and left the world worse off than it would’ve been otherwise.
So, understanding all the history involved, I will say this until I’m six feet deep (and hopefully as an unfriendly ghost) – human beings, our lives and liberties, are far more sacred than a flag, a holy book, an institution, or an idea. If the State or God Herself has an issue with this philosophy, then let them press their claim.
Or if they have really have a problem, I’ll refer them to another national anthem by Crime Mob.
Understand, I have no issue if someone burns a holy book, takes a dump on the flag, or destroys property if and only if they own these items. If you don’t own it or if it doesn’t cause you great harm, then you can’t go around stealing or destroying these things. So, for whatever their reasons might have been and even if we find the beliefs of the Oxy Republican Club abhorrent, we cannot condone the actions of these vandals. Vandalizing property, even if they are just symbols, in the name of politics is both a crime and an illiberal action.
You don’t have to love the American flag. You can question the purpose of memorials in a decent manner. But it is a violation, both legally and ethically, to break or burn flags or desecrate memorials if you don’t own them. It’s counterproductive and legitimately offensive to those of us who believe in liberalism and humanism.
To paraphrase Voltaire, while I may disagree with Republicans and find their ideology abhorrent, I will defend their RIGHT to have their political beliefs without violent reprisal. I don’t want them feeling unsafe from the threat of violence in our society simply because they express an opinion. Conversely, in a supposedly free country, I can talk about how much I despise their xenophobic theocratic crony capitalist anti-intellectual policy presents a danger to our liberal values. I can go on for days about how their orthodoxy led to the rise of a thin-skinned neofascist demagogue con-man as their presidential nominee. I could also argue that Hillary’s comments about the “basket of deplorables” voting for Trump were more than accurate descriptor. I can organize grassroots campaigns, boycott them, or do whatever else allowed by our constitution to advance my ideas over their regressive philosophy.
Of course, if they feel the pressing need to, they can counter-argue against me. If they’re offended, they can ignore me or complain on social media…because ‘Murica. They can also ignore me and think whatever thought occurs in their heads.
And if they really have a problem, I’ll refer them to another anthem, this time by Chance the Rapper.
It may appear to be paradoxical, but I need an illiberal’s freedom so that I may be free. Moreover, I don’t need to destroy monuments or fight someone just to prove my point. Understand, the desecration of Oxy 9/11 memorial isn’t the most pressing issue of our time (or on that campus) and the crime doesn’t warrant extreme punishment since it wasn’t violent or a threat of harm (though some form of disciplinary action is necessary). As human beings, especially when we’re young, we are going to make mistakes and say things that we regret later on. But we have to continue to remind people both young and old, liberal and conservative, of a major key (shout out the DJ Khaled); the key to civil society, above all else, is that it remains civil for discourse to flourish. To do so otherwise only threatens us all.