The First Amendment to the US constitution states: “Congress shall make no law…….abridging the freedom of speech.” Yet, intolerance and intimidation can be an issue in the bastions of Western democracy.

The most recent and vivid exhibit was during the confirmation hearings at the US Senate Armed Services Committee of Obama’s nominee for US Defence Secretary, Chuck Hagel.  Continually, Hagel was subjected to humiliating interrogation by his ex-colleagues in the US Senate, like John McCain and Lindsey Graham.  Hagel’s crime: he was critical of the Israel lobby’s grip on the US Congress and his stated preference for a non-confrontational approach with Iran.  Over and over, Hagel was raked over the coals, although in the past, he had served as national co-chair of McCain’s 2000 presidential quest. 

The US officialdom, think-tank pundits, and media, in effect, speak with one voice on contentious issues related to Israel and Iran.  They then expect - by applying multiple tools of pressure - that others should adhere to a similar script.  Those who comply are labelled ‘moderates’ and those who defy are called ‘extremists’.  The champions of diversity become, in reality, the practitioners of conformity.

But nonetheless, there have been heroic silver linings in civil society.

One such eminent person was Richard Curtiss, who for 30 years, along with Ambassador Andrew Killgore, founded the path-breaking journal, “The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs”.  For three decades, it has been a moral beacon and a sane voice alerting Americans to the dangers of being over-committed to one side and being one-sided in its approach to the Middle East and the larger Muslim world.  Richard Curtiss passed away on January 31.  He and his remarkably devoted wife of 62 years, Donna, provided a refreshingly alternative voice amidst a sea of sameness.  Sadly, but predictably, there were very few amongst the Muslim community who supported such stellar efforts. 

At the Senate confirmation hearing of CIA Director nominee John Brennan on February 7, the peace group Code Pink disrupted the proceedings through their shouted protests against the drone strikes and their horrendous human costs.

It seems that the right to think freely and speak freely does not apply when it comes to core issues underlying tensions between the West and the Muslim world.

Whatever may be the rationale offered for it, at its core, it is sheer fear that has incapacitated US Muslims from stepping up to the plate to develop a vibrant and viable voice in the American conversation. Relevant in America today is what Bulleh Shah had warned in Punjab centuries ago: “Arise, O’ Bulleh, lest the dogs carry the day.”

Meanwhile, amidst all this, Hillary Clinton has departed after serving out her four-year tenure as America’s principal foreign policy voice and face.  She has been widely hailed in the US media.  Undoubtedly, Hillary has been a celebrity and a frequent international flyer, but one would be hard-pressed to point to any singular foreign policy feat and enduring legacy.  Her record pales into insignificance compared to Nixon’s game-changing China initiative of over 40 years ago.

Such are the doings when perceptions overcome reality.

The writer is an attorney-at-law and policy analyst based in Washington DC. He is the first Pakistani American member admitted to the US Supreme Court Bar. Email: mowahid@aol.com