The recent radical protesters at UC, Berkeley and town halls made me realize how often hypocrisy leads a mob from an original complaint to denying freedom of speech to others with differing opinions. That refusal often morphs from uncivil into criminal behaviors.
In the following excerpt from the pre-published manuscript of IMASODE X: From Piraeus to Paris to the Pyrenees, Ima Purple stands before young 1969 Greek protesters touting communism. Risking embarrassment or being shouted down, she seizes the moment to express her opinion.
Ima walked a few blocks and boarded a bus with a marquee showing “Base Shuttle.” Full of American student and military personnel, the bus crossed through Athens. She relaxed as the passengers inside chattered, and the shoppers outside bustled along the sidewalks. The scene mimicked most large cities until on most turns, she could see the Acropolis poking out prominently in the cityscape, reminding her where she actually was.
Halfway to the base, the driver stopped at a red light. Protesters carrying signs rushed up and began to rock the bus. Fearful for the children on board, she felt the rocking motion grow intense in an obvious attempt to terrify foreign passengers. The protesters waved their signs repeating old dry mottos: “Workers Unite Against the Oppressor: Down with Capitalists & Imperialists.” But this time, they had added a new parade ending: “Americans Go Home!”
Ima thought, “Oh no. It’s déjà vu – a repeat of her 1965 Athens visit. She figured these college kids did not understand that the Greek government had invited the U.S to help protect Greece from the same communist encroachment that plagued other nations on the Balkan peninsula. Although only young adults, they maybe had not studied that nations belonging to NATO held an obligation to protect each other.
Screwing up her courage, Ima went up front and asked the driver to open the door. Just then, several protesters yelling “Americans go home,” grabbed at open windows and clung to the sides while others continued to rock the huge vehicle. When the traffic light turned green, the driver stayed put, fearing that if he dragged a protester into the intersection, newspapers would blow it into an international incident.
“Please don’t antagonize them,” said the bus driver, a sergeant from the base.
“Well, their signs and shouts have antagonized me,” declared Ima.
“Ahh-hh, Miss. Don’t mind them. They’re always protesting something. They protested the king for years; and now that he’s gone, they don’t want him back… but fear the current coups might prove worse. It’s all in the newspapers, but it’s like they don’t know how to read or listen or—”
“That’s a red herring. Something else is going on here,” Ima surmised.
“Don’t get involved. Let the Athens police handled this,” the driver advised.
“Please don’t get involved,” said a few passengers.
Seeing that these student protesters obviously wanted change, Ima refused to turn back. Surely she could reason with them. Surely with getting all their knowledge, they had gotten some understanding of how the world worked. Surely, they knew that change must come slowly or else revolution would take over at the high price of public pain and concomitant chaos.
This scene either afforded a chance to conduct themselves as responsible adults or to overflow with immature frustration at a conundrum that will not bring an easy satisfying answer.
Ima wanted to persuade them kindly but logically – to focus on some issues needing improvement instead of destroying everything which would inadvertently include all they still loved about Greek society. She pondered what to do or say…searching for some way to redirect their angst and anger…forming alternatives to prevent their youthful discouragement turning into violence?
Standing at the front of the bus, Ima had a quick flashback to her Hyde Park speech in London. This time would be different. With a quick prayer to push down her critical nature and to invoke critical thought, not provoke the crowd by adding fuel to a rising fire, she motioned to the driver to open the door. Shaking his head, he reluctantly complied.
Ima went down to the bottom step and looked out at the noisy, disgruntled group. Searching for sympathetic eyes but unable to command anyone’s attention, she brought a finger to her mouth in a teacher’s gesture and whispered, “Shhhh!”
The crowd quieted slightly. Then, as if given full attention, Ima tried her hand at the Socratic method or at least her version of it. Before long, it sounded like a mixture of instruction from a Matthew Henry commentary and warning from a Jonathan Edwards sermon. “Come let us reason together:
• Do I rightly perceive you are well-educated young Greeks?
• If so, do you not celebrate Greece as the birthplace of democracy?
• Did Plato not describe how to organize The Republic?
• Did Aristotle not proclaim the beauty of culture in his Poetics?
• Did Socrates not teach you to seek truth by asking questions?
• Would you denounce, even discard your Golden Age philosophers?
• Yet did not your superstitions bring Greece down in ancient times?
• Were you not burdened with a pantheon of demanding pagan gods?
• So confused, you even had a statue to an unknown god?
• Does not history tell how the Apostle Paul explained the unknown God?
• Did your ancestors not embrace Jesus and preach His gospel?
• Are you not proud that the New Testament was first written in Greek?
• If so, for what lost or desired freedom do you now protest?
• Did you forget that whoever is freed by the Lord is free indeed?
• Given Christian freedom, would you revert to slavery of communist dogma?
• Having tasted such freedom, would you accept rules that control you?
• Would you now make statues to new gods of people like Marx and Lenin?
• Would you dignify, even magnify their philosophies as worthy?
• Are you deceived to think damnable goals can result in lofty results?
• Can you approve their goals gained only by killing millions?
• Have you joined those who agree, ‘the ends justify the means’?
• Do you not have eyes to see their goals will reduce your great nation?
• Do you not see what Tito has done to the rest of the Balkans
• Do you not see what the Soviets have done to Eastern Europe?
• Did China free its people by equalizing them e.g.doctors made into orderlies?
• Did a misguided desire for freedom make you protest King Constantine?
• Have you forgotten such kings only have temporal reign over you?
• Or, wanting to be free of monarchy, do you now embrace anarchy?
• Do you prefer being slaves or serfs as your ancestors were most likely?
• Would you so quickly put yourselves under authority that is not Greek?
• Have you forgotten what you once knew?
• Who has bewitched you?”
When Ima stopped, one student approached the steps and spoke for the group. “Lady, we know all that, but we care nothing about the past nor do we worry about the future. When we decided a king was an outdated notion, we got rid of him. Besides, he didn’t care about us or the poor people or even democracy for that matter. We’re neither medieval serfs wanting his protection nor blind men asking for his guidance. And we don’t need you to warn us about Marx or preach to us about God. We know all that too.”
“Miss, you need to get your facts right. You’re fighting an old cause,” said a seemingly articulate Greek man sitting on a bus stop bench off to the side. He closed his newspaper, stood up, and glared at her.
“Then why does that so-called old cause keep showing its ugly head?”
“You don’t understand. History moves quickly here in Greece. The king is gone, and the communists are probably too few to take over parliament. What these protesters actually want is a good thing – to get rid of the military government that rules us now. Don’t you Americans read newspaper?” He shook his finger in her face.
Ima blushed from tip to toe. Maybe she had gone off on a tirade without knowing all the facts. Wanting to disappear from the present humiliation, Ima again let her mind zoom back weeks in time and hundreds of miles in distance…back to the Hyde Park soapbox scene…back to the same question: could she ever stop the habit of being a critic instead of a critical thinker! Still she wrestled on when to analyze and when to stay quiet? Or had she judged correctly?
Chagrined, Ima decided to suffer this disappointment in silence and not bore her gracious hosts at dinner this evening. Nobody need know about today’s failure, if indeed, failure were its proper title. She could admit to needing more up-to-date information but still stubbornly clung to the feeling that her conclusion might approximate the truth