I was never a fan of Condoleezza Rice. It wasn’t personal. My reluctance to applaud was based on major questions I had about the policies she was so much a part of back in the Bush era. It was logical that the U.S. have a response after 9/11, but getting involved in countries fiercely devoted to codes and attitudes from 1,400 years in the past seemed doomed at the start. The Bush aim of fostering liberal democracies in that part of the world stood as much success as setting up a salt water stand on a Pacific island. A religion-based democracy is like that of North Korea, where the lambs vote for the glorious leader because he’s the only one on the ballot. Democracy geared to support a rigidly fixed political or religious system supports the system rather than the citizenry.

Well, we did it anyway. I wish we hadn’t because we’re still there and not much has changed, other than the names of the corrupt middlemen. The scene under a Republican administration is much the same as our current one under a Democrat who should have had the sense to end this long ago. The president said he’d get us out, but he’s still twiddling on it. Maybe he thinks the next administration will enjoy some leftovers.

Set that aside and look at the current flap over Condi. Rutgers University invited her as a paid commencement speaker. A student group became very unhappy and protested adamantly and stridently (I watched some clips) that C. Rice was a war criminal who should be charged and not allowed to speak. The war crimes angle is made up based on (near as I can sort it it) a violation of sacred lands and harm to followers of a theological group that transcends manmade boundaries and nations. Condi did not do this alone, and of course there is no recognized court in the U.S. or The Hague calling for her capture, but she was a far easier target/scapegoat than Bush or U.S. military leaders. As war criminals go, Condi was a poor choice, but people who aren’t picky about facts don’t need to be bothered by that if they get a juicy ball of media attention. After all, so they claimed, these student protesters were defending freedom of speech and minority rights by going after a person their kangaroo court judged guilty and had condemned.

Do you get the impression I find this pretty damned silly? I can grasp how high-spirited students might not understand the difference between actual indictment and an accusation. I understand how some might think foreign or religious law applies. But how on green grass do you represent freedom of speech by demanding the silence of those you disagree with? Furthermore, what do they think gave them the right to censor what others can hear and consider? An organized student group that doesn’t understand dissent in free speech should leave Rutgers to go back to a ninth grade civics class. Protest and objection are OK. Those are included in free speech. Attempting to silence others is an abuse of free speech, especially (as seemed very clear to me as I looked at the material) when there are implied threats of repercussions and possible violence. When group spokespersons say they cannot control others, they are subtly encouraging others to go out of control. Free speech (or as I often prefer, Freedom of Expression) gives great latitude, but when freedom of speech is used to bully, intimidate, and silence others, it should be seen for what it is and called by its correct name: in this case, a dictatorship run by narrow-minded thugs.

If you get the impression this incident sorely disturbs me, you are correct. The potential for radical protest to derail and hold hostage the political system of free exchange is a real danger, one that grows higher and stronger whenever tactics of bullying and intimidation are successful. Justice is never secured by bowing to the demands of bullies. As necessary, citizens need to confront belligerent tactics in a firm and responsible way. Defense of minority rights should have a result other than replacing one bias with another. The welfare of the overall body politic is a just concern. You and I need to see the difference between true violations of rights and accusations of wrongdoing that often prove to be built on political gimmickry. As we need to defend our Four Freedoms, we need ensure than on leaving high school, students have a grasp of basic facts of government and some ability to hold their own in open debate. If we and those following after are not defenders of freedom, who will be?

The Condi case is a decent example of excess by a group reaching into the past for a scapegoat when there are many other current ills visited on “innocents” where neither Condi and the Bush administration nor the U.S. military are involved. There’s plenty of mayhem in Nigeria, Somalia, Libya, Syria, etc., but offended university students need a bigger bad guy to point at. Not only is their perception awfully skewed, but it dangerously proposes no solution other than anarchy as a prelude to dictatorship. How much of a defense of freedom and individual liberties is that?

It surprised me that Condi backed out of her commencement address, though I understand that faced with threats of violence and disturbance, she did not want to turn graduation into a spectacle of insult. I get that reason. I suspect there’s little she might have said that would change my view on the ill advisability of carrying democracy to cultures where it has little fit, but I’d have wanted to hear her side and her reflections on that. That Condi, who bucked her way against gender and color odds, folded under intimidation is diminishing to all of us. I fault her for that, but not Rutgers for staying firm. I intend to thank them for that and hope others will do so as well.