Disagreement Need Not Equal Discourtesy

Some of the comments to my post on why it’s not discourteous to wear American flag images on Cinco de Mayo seem to suggest there’s something discourteous about publicly expressing disagreement with some other group’s celebration, even in a public space. Here’s an example:

My college, did in fact, have a kind of celebrate Israeli independence day (more like a week). Some of our non-Jewish/pro=Palestinian students suddenly started wearing the scarves that, apparently, signify a pro-Palestinian/anti-Israeli view.

I think that was rude of them. I think it was an intentional insult to the Jewish [or, at least, pro-Israel] students: they intended to insult and undercut the celebrations of some of their peers. I would think the same if students wore swastikas on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

I think this is also part of what Maureen Downey, the columnist to whose post I was responding, had in mind. But I think it’s mistaken.

There’s nothing at all rude when students who see some expressing Israeli independence day express an anti-Israel viewpoint. That’s disagreement, but disagreement does not equal discourtesy. Nor does the fact that the disagreement comes in response to others’ celebration make the disagreement discourteous, at least when the celebration is in a public place. If some people want to celebrate an event in a public place, others who share the place are entitled to express the view that the event doesn’t merit celebration.

That’s part of the nature of the contest of ideas (though here expressed by both sides symbolically rather than through detailed argument). There’s nothing inherently discourteous about this contest, at least if it’s carried out through means that avoid insults, intrusions on truly solemn events, and the like.

Likewise, another commenter suggests that it’s discourteous to “eat[] a hot dog at a vegan club meeting.” If you go to a private meeting as a guest, then your obligations as a guest are indeed greater. But if the vegan club sponsors an “Eat Vegan” day in a public place, where they conspicuously eat only vegan food, then it is not discourteous for others to use the occasion to eat hot dogs.

Swastikas on Holocaust Remembrance Day are of course a completely different matter, partly because of the solemnity of the occasion but especially because swastikas represent evil. But that has nothing to do with the American flag on Cinco de Mayo.