Editor's Note: Berkeley Remains a Beacon for Dissent

Rong-Gong Lin, II, is the editor in chief of The Daily Californian. Respond at [email protected].





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The moment I saw the Twin Towers smoldering one year ago today, I said to myself, "We've been attacked. War has been declared."

As the week progressed, it seemed that this was the time to rally together, for the sake of our country. It was a time for all of us truly to be Americans. Wave that flag, and show the world that we will never forget. We will bring justice, no matter the cost.

But what was most unpatriotic would come in the following days: the attempted silencing of the voice of dissent.

People from across the nation sent a torrent of hateful mail when some Berkeley leaders and residents showed hesitation to rush to rally around the flag.

"Peace Now" and "Stop the Violence," warnings against a military backlash, were printed carefully on two tiny boards at the campuswide memorial after the attacks.

Berkeley's own Congress member, Rep. Barbara Lee, cast the lone vote against granting President Bush authority to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against the terrorists.

The Berkeley City Council followed up, calling for an end to the bombing of Afghanistan as soon as possible.

Treason, the silencers cried. Berkeley is a traitor and the city should be bombed, e-mails read. City leaders and Rep. Lee received death threats.

We'll start a boycott to punish Berkeley economically for their views, the silencers claimed.

It was chilling to see how easily intolerance and hate could come from Americans who disagreed with other Americans' opinions. Free speech, the most American of values, was disregarded.

Berkeley has been vilified in the some media as un-American. But in its dissent, Berkeley has proven itself to be a beacon of hope that the nation will retain its tradition of tolerance and open debate.

History hints that an open debate is essential to preventing disastrous foreign policy. In 1964, only two lawmakers voted against giving President Johnson the power to take measures against the North Vietnamese government, opening the way into a bloody war that cost the lives of 50,000 Americans. That war escalated when Americans mistakenly believed they were attacked without provocation, and in hindsight, more questions should have been asked.

It's encouraging that Congress members, even among the president's supporters, are questioning President Bush in his determination to take military action on Iraq.

Student and university voices are critical to preventing the deterioration of civil liberties. The government is in the process of heightening restrictions on some international students. Government agents are interrogating immigrants, looking into personal information, from someone's student record or what books she checks out of the library. Some residents have been locked up, their names unreleased to the general public.

At times like these we must have Americans questioning the government.

Some still see "Beserkeley" as completely out of touch with the nation. "How on earth could UC Berkeley opt for anything but red, white and blue ribbons for their Sept. 11 memorial?" some will ask.

"Why not?" others will respond.

Admittedly, Berkeley has had its own problems practicing tolerance. In April, a lecture series moved out of Berkeley, weary that city police would be unable to guarantee security to protect their events from crowds of protesters. Those protesters shut down a talk by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two years ago.

But one year after the Sept. 11 attacks, Berkeley has for the most part retained its critical role as a leader for dissent. It is crucial that it remains so.

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