October 10, 2002

Freedom of Speech...

As Long As You Say the Right Thing

Governor James McGreevey of New Jersey asked for Amiri Baraka's resignation after objections from lobbying groups about a line in a poem in which Baraka said the government of Israel knew about the 9-11 attacks before they happened.

According to an AP report (see NYC Indymedia), Governor McGreevey's spokesman said, "The language used in Mr. Baraka's recent poem could be interpreted as stating that Israelis were forewarned of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Mr. Baraka should clarify the intent of his language, apologize for any potential misinterpretation of his language, and resign."

If what Mr. Baraka said was not true, then make your case. If it is libelous, then whomever is libeled should sue Mr. Baraka, and in court it can be decided if his charges are libelous or not. That is the extent of the law's involvement in a person's communications. It is not the governor's place to tell a poet laureate to resign because he disagrees with something in one of the man's poems. That is ridiculous and Governor McGreevey should be embarassed. New Jersey could have voted in Bret Schundler if the people wanted a fascist. McGreevey's got a huge job to do to clean up the fiscal mess left by his predecessor Christy Whitman, now Herr Bush's anti-environment minister. McGreevey has no business sticking his nose into things he obviously knows nothing about. Apparently McGreevey is unaware of the principle of freedom of speech. If it doesn't apply when you disagree with someone, it isn't freedom of speech.

In regard to the separate issue of whether the statement is true or false, or whether it is a reasonable supposition or an outrage, there have been many reports that intelligence agencies from several other countries, not just Israel, gave warnings to the United States. How one construes that fact into anti-semitism is mysterious.

Governor McGreevey, leave Amiri Baraka alone and get back to your job as a public servant!

By the way, besides being a poet Amiri Baraka, under his former (slave) name Leroy Jones, was the author of Blues People and Black Music, two of the most insightful books on American music ever written. The man is a great treasure and should not be treated in so crass a manner by people who obviously have no idea what he is about. McGreevey is only doing the politician thing of trying to please groups who apply pressure. Come on, Jim! Stand up and be a man. Americans are tired of spineless politicians who are servants of political pressure groups.

For more on this, see
The Blacklisted Journalist
To read the offending poem, click on NYC Indymedia. It's a powerful poem. What does McGreevey want the poet laureate to do, write about red, red roses until forever runs out? This is a real piece of writing about the real stuff that is ripping at the hearts of the American people.

And check this reading out: NYC Indymedia.

-- By David Cogswell

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