Not exactly Je suis Charlie, but it’s also not entirely different from it either. The Santa Barbara News-Press found its offices vandalized yesterday morning, spray painted with slogans such as “THE BORDER IS ILLEGAL NOT THE PEOPLE WHO CROSS IT.” The attack has not changed the minds of the newspaper’s editors, who plan to keep using the term:
A California newspaper will continue to use the term “illegals” to describe people who enter the U.S. without permission, despite an attack on its building by vandals believed to object to the term.
The Santa Barbara News-Press’s front entrance was sprayed with the message “The border is illegal, not the people who cross it” in red paint, sometime either Wednesday night or early Thursday, according to the newspaper’s director of operations, Donald Katich. The attack came amid wider objections to a News-Press headline that used the word “illegals” alongside a story on California granting driver’s licenses to people in the country illegally. …
“It has been the practice for nearly 10 years at the Santa Barbara News-Press to describe people living in this country illegally as “illegals” regardless of their country of origin,” the statement read. “This practice is under fire by some immigration groups who believe that this term is demeaning and does not accurately reflect the status of “undocumented immigrants,” one of several terms other media use to describe people in the Unites States illegally.
“It is an appropriate term in describing someone as “illegal” if they are in this country illegally,” the statement added.
The paper offered a defiant guest column today that is, unfortunately, hidden behind a pay wall. Local radio host Andy Caldwell reiterates the News-Press defense of using the term, and accuses the vandals of attempting to bowdlerize the language through intimidation in order to gain a political advantage:
With respect to the current protest against the use of the word “illegal” in describing aliens applying for driver’s licenses, understand that the ultimate goal of the activists involved is to do away with the concept of immigration law altogether in favor of open borders and universal citizenry. They are attacking the use of the term “illegal” not because they are offended, but because they seek to affect the outcome of a national debate by controlling language in order to stifle dissent. With respect to this attack on a truthful and accurate headline, George Orwell said it best: “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and to give an appearance of solidarity to pure wind. Political speech is intended to hide the truth rather than express it.”
The truth is, the term “illegal alien” accurately describes a foreigner who has entered or resides in a country unlawfully or without the country’s authorization, even if California chooses to issue driver’s licenses to the same. As such, the use of the word “illegal” to describe the status of an alien is neither race- or national origin-specific. Illegal aliens can hail from any country and race on earth, but these details are actually irrelevant to the discussion at hand.
Caldwell also connects this to the history of Charlie Hebdo in France and the attempts to intimidate its now-murdered staff to change its own choice of language and satirical targets:
I would hope Wednesday’s terror attack in Paris is not lost in this debate, as it more closely mirrors what is going on here rather than any vague connections to Ferguson and New York. The point is, to what degree does society cater to people who claim the right to not be offended? Who do we check with to determine our speech meets the PC code? The critics who are the most threatening?
Even putting aside this week’s massacre, the offices of Charlie Hebdo got firebombed in 2011 for satirizing Mohammed. That didn’t deflect the editors from their policies, but it was clearly intended to do so — just as this is an attempt to intimidate the editors of a local newspaper to kowtow to the political agenda of a group of thugs. These same people could have staged legal protests outside the offices, picketing the facility and making their arguments as to why the News-Press was wrong in its editorial style choices, but instead chose to break the law and attempt to intimidate the editors.
It’s extremely doubtful that these thugs will go to the same lengths as the Islamists in Paris, but that’s not really the point. If we are to stand up to thuggery and intimidation against those who are practicing free speech and operating in the media, then nous sommes News-Press just as much as je suis Charlie, or even more so. The use of the perfectly descriptive and innocuous phrase “illegal immigrant” is a lot more supportable than the content at Charlie Hebdo. Perhaps the rest of the media should adopt that phrase out of solidarity to the News-Press and to send a signal here at home that the media will stand together against intimidation.
Don’t bet on it, though. In my column for The Fiscal Times yesterday, I warned that political correctness has been eroding our commitment to free speech for decades, and in precisely this kind of context:
In the West, we have declined from robust and honest debate into an ever-tightening straitjacket of political correctness. That movement has collapsed the use of language by stigmatizing legitimate constructs in politics and culture.
On college campuses, which should serve as the hothouses for debate and independent thought, free speech often gets limited to demarcated “zones.” Our national debate has been plagued by demands for “trigger warnings” on certain topics lest a stray idea or image cause undue stress, and even the most innocent of colloquies can cause one to be branded a “micro-aggressor.”
Unfortunately, this leaves us with a truncated vocabulary and substantial timidity when difficult issues arise. After flashpoints like Ferguson and the Eric Garner death, Americans keep promising themselves a “national conversation” on race, only to have it dominated by the angriest members on all sides leaving reasonable people afraid of giving offense rather than speaking their minds.
“Conversations” inevitably become lectures from those who have the largest chips on their shoulders, and anyone offering dissent becomes instantly delegitimized. This is how the understandable anger over Garner’s death, caught on videotape during his arrest, turns into absurd, performance-art protests during Sunday brunches in a few urban centers, rather than into action that unites communities for more responsible policing – and perhaps the reduction of intrusive laws that would prevent the necessity for so much police intervention, as with Garner.
In truth, we’ve been retreating on free speech for much longer than the rise of Islamist terror in the West. They’re just taking advantage of our weakened resolve, led by the news organizations that should have been taking the strongest stands against its erosion. When intimidation and violence work, expect to see more of it.