It's too easy for someone to exaggerate your anti-war statements. "You don't support the troops!" they say. "Would you rather the Iraqis suffer in a totalitarian regime?" they yell. What they want to say is "shut up." If you aren't rooting for America, you can leave your First Amendment rights at the door.
But this is a country based on inquiry, discourse and liberty. Since when did we stuff cotton in our ears and sing "la la la la" at the utterance of any statement which runs counter to our country's actions? Why can't the United States make a mistake?
To tell President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran to stuff it and go back to his country after he had accepted an invitation to speak at Columbia University is just the most recent of countless examples.
It's true that in the United States, no one has the jurisdiction to deny Ahmadinejad the right to speak, but many officials made it clear that if it was up to them, they would deny the Iranian's speech rights. This is the problem. This is why we are still in Iraq.
We do not take the time to talk to our "enemies" or make an attempt to understand them or their culture. True, Ahmadinejad may be out of touch with reality, but maybe we should listen to him instead of writing him off as a delirious dictator.
By inviting him to come to our country and speak, we had the opportunity to learn something new. Instead, we were too busy making picket signs and shaking our heads in the name of patriotism.
If you want to show someone the extent of your injury, you hold out your cast, three yards of gauze wrapped round your leg or your scar. Maybe by showing Ahmadinejad Ground Zero, we could have shown him our scar: not as a sign of weakness, but so he could understand.
But we didn't. In the words of New York City Council Speaker, Christine Quinn, "We're here today to send a message that there is never a reason to give a hatemonger an open stage."
It's difficult to understand why someone has hateful views. It's easy to just say they have them. Even the President of Columbia University Lee Bollinger, perhaps in defense of his own credibility, boarded the bashing bus. Bollinger, acting as a bad host, said that Ahmadinejad exhibited "all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator."
At least he had the courtesy to warn him of the insults he would receive, even before he had a chance to speak.
We definitely missed our opportunity to gain credibility in the world. For once I find myself in agreement with a fanatical dictator. "The Columbia University issue revealed their aggressive and mean-spirited image," Ahmadinejad said. "I believe they made a big mistake. They sacrificed the prestige of their whole system."
We did. We once held up our First Amendment rights with pride. Now we treat those rights as a sacrificial lambs. By acting equally hostile towards Ahmadinejad, we look like hypocrites on the world stage.
I think Gandhi said it best: "Evolution of democracy is not possible if we are not prepared to hear the other side."