Two weeks ago, Katherine Lo ’05 hung an American flag upside-down outside her window, a symbol of distress and dissent with the U.S. government. She reported to the police that two Thursdays ago, several male students broke into her suite after midnight, armed with a two-by-four, and tried to enter her bedroom, the door of which, fortunately, was locked. According to Lo, they scrawled on her whiteboard a message violently calling for the killing of Iraqis and Muslims with threats specifically directed at women. It ended with the words, “I hate you, GO AMERICA.”
Lo has since taken down her flag and moved out of her suite, afraid for her safety.
Just transcribing this story and the words which are its ghost makes my palms sweat, clench and unclench. What we have here is a case of free speech and peaceful, political dissent — two values at the cruxes of our democracy — being shut down by violent intimidation. It’s unacceptable, appalling, saddening, frightening. Lo should have been able to hang a flag out her window without fear of students forcing their way into her room in the middle of the night, armed with a weapon — to do what, we can only speculate.
Yesterday, the Yale Daily News printed an article reporting this incident (“Student alleges anti-Muslim hate speech,” 4/9). In solidarity with Lo and as a symbol that freedom of speech will not be shut down by violent intimidation, I and about 30 other students all over campus hung American flags upside-down outside our windows. But by yesterday evening, freedom of expression had again been attacked. Someone had entered the common room of my suite, which is on the second floor of Farnam, uninvited, and turned the flag right side up.
What kind of country do we live in where peacefully protesting the government is met with terrorism? What kind of university is Yale, an institution that is supposed to be a place of higher education, of dialogue and understanding, a beacon of light and truth for the rest of the world? What must be happening at other universities all over the country? It is appalling and tragic to realize the reptilian capabilities of closed minds anywhere.
Noam Chomsky said, “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” As a human, I am outraged at the violence and racism in the message left by the three intruders, and as a woman, I am alarmed at their misogyny. I fully support their right to express their opinions — disgusting as they are — but not if they do it by physically threatening the well-being of another, not by breaking and entering a room, not with a weapon. The kind of anonymous violence they waged two weeks ago is cowardly. People with courage and dignity should take what they have to say to a public forum and be willing to face their peers.
It is unfortunate that this instance of attempting to silence political opposition is not isolated, neither at Yale nor in the United States at large. Sunday night, a squad of three cars of police told a group of students who were chalking the word “peace” in different languages in front of Sterling Memorial Library that they had to stop. Everyone here knows how many groups chalk sidewalks on a regular basis all over campus, and this incident was clearly an attempt to repress politically motivated messages. Additionally, Monday morning, police followed a small group participating in a roaming die-in around Yale and downtown New Haven, condescendingly interrogating them and declaring that they didn’t have a right to protest. Since when?
The break-in incident two weeks ago is about more than just the stifling of the anti-war movement. It is reflective of a culture of violence, force, and demonstrating power through brute means.
It frightens me to the core that we are all going through the motions of our daily lives like drones, while bombs are dropping and people are dying and cities are crumbling. Every day for the past three weeks, I have cried. War is terror, period, regardless of your political stance on attacking Iraq. We don’t need to advance that kind of permeating terrorism at home as well.
A peaceful world cannot be achieved through violent measures or intimidation; violence will only lead to more violence.
Today, students are flying upside-down American flags outside their room windows all over campus in solidarity with the female student who had the courage to do it first. Free speech will not be shut down on this campus. It will not be bullied into submission or into complicity with an immoral war. Passion cannot be squelched with a two-by-four.
Laura Hess is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College.