Jewish World Review March 28, 2003 / 24 Adar II, 5763

Jonathan Gurwitz

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Constitutionally protected SOBs | How can you tell when protests against the war in Iraq cross the line from legitimate political expression to illegitimate invective? Where does the American tradition of dissent end and licentious anti-Americanism begin?

As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said about obscenity, you know it when you see it.

In San Francisco last week, a group calling itself "Pukers for Peace" vomited on the steps of the federal building to show that war made them sick. Do these people have the right to regurgitate on public property? In the abstract sense of individual rights and personal autonomy, yes. But why not heave on their own houses? Does anyone doubt that in the age of reality television, some news crew wouldn't visit the local peace center to witness a mass retching?

And does spewing on sidewalks really count as civil disobedience? The integrity of the civil rights movement and the dignity of Rosa Parks demonstrated the true nature of segregation by compelling authorities to enforce the consequences of unjust laws.

But the pukers, like many of their anti-war comrades, aren't interested in consequences, only in making statements. Like infants incapable of controlling their bodily functions, they cry and wait for someone else to clean up their mess.

It's easy to make light of such grotesque and infantile behavior. But beneath the spectacle, there's a real consequence for public safety. Among the throng of protesters in San Francisco in the last week, 2,100 have been arrested for offenses ranging from blocking traffic to assaulting police officers.

Assistant Police Chief Alex Fagan condemned the "ratcheting up from legal protest to absolute anarchy." Mayor Willie Brown, a veteran of left-wing politics, criticized those "who have chosen to specifically try to disrupt this city rather than gather peacefully."

The issue of public safety is especially significant because of the currently elevated threat of terrorism. For every police officer in San Francisco, Chicago or New York who is forced to deal with anarchic protesters, there's one fewer police officer who can contribute to homeland security or work a normal beat for burglars, rapists and murderers.

The strategy is a calculated one, intended to affect not only the police but the military as well. Last week, Craig Rosebraugh, a former spokesman for the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front, issued a statement dismissing peaceful demonstrations against the war in Iraq and calling instead for large scale urban rioting.

"With massive unrest and even state of emergencies declared in major cities," Rosebraugh wrote, "the U.S. government will be forced to send U.S. troops into the domestic arena thereby taking resources and political focus away from the war."

Rosebraugh also encourages activists to "actively target U.S. military establishments within the United States." And for good measure, he calls for attacks on military personnel themselves: "If you are supporting the troops you are supporting this war and the very U.S. government that is the primary terrorist regime in the international arena."

These statements are not abstractions, not without consequences. Across the country, harassment of military personnel and their families is on the rise. One sign seen in San Francisco last week declared, "We Support Our Troops When They Shoot Their Officers."

Whether Sgt. Asan Akbar of the 326th Engineer Battalion assigned to the 101st Airborne Division was encouraged by such sentiments is not known. What is alleged is that Akbar threw grenades into the division's command center in Kuwait, killing one officer and wounding 15 others. What is clear is that some Americans evidently find perverse satisfaction in this murderous and treasonous act.

Political dissent is a constitutional right. Violence in promotion of that dissent - especially toward those in uniform whose actions are directed by elected officials and whose sacrifices safeguard that right - is not.

JWR contributor Jonathan Gurwitz is a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News. Comment by clicking here.


03/25/03: Morality changes with the times
03/12/03: Will all of those, ahem, "sincere" peace activists remember the Iraqis tomorrow?
02/27/03: Blood already on UN inspectors' hands

© 2003, Jonathan Gurwitz