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from the magazine


Since 9/11, the wackiest U.S. municipality has gone into outer space. Autumn 2002
The Social Order
Public safety

For many centuries, astronomers embraced the Ptolemaic theory: the Sun revolves around Earth. In the sixteenth century, this outlook gave way to the Copernican theory: Earth and all the other planets revolve around the Sun. But now comes the breakthrough Berkelean theory, held in a remote part of northern California. It postulates that the city of Berkeley, California (pop. circa 102,700), is actually our galaxy’s focal point.

Accordingly, last year Berkeley’s city council proclaimed the city a Hate-Free Zone—as if everyone who entered its precincts would find himself purged of hostile thoughts. The proclamation does seem to permit certain exceptions. Students at the local institute of higher learning, UC Berkeley, for example, have permission—indeed are encouraged—to revile democracy, the Stars and Stripes, Israel, and the current U.S. administration. In a UC Berkeley class entitled “The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance,” the professor even warned: “Conservative thinkers are encouraged to seek other sections.”

Berkeley’s illiberalism began with the student riots of the late 1960s, and came to a head on September 12, 2001. The occasion: a candlelight vigil, allegedly in memory of those killed at the Twin Towers. At the ceremony, the U.S. won the title of “the world’s greatest terrorist regime,” and the 9/11 attack became “the first blow against American capitalism.” (Such Third Worldviews are regular Berkeley fare: last spring, Berkeley bestowed “sister city” status on Palma Soriano in the Santiago province of Cuba, an area it celebrated as “rich in revolutionary history.”) Shortly after the demonstrators’ candles went out, Berkeley’s elected representative, Democrat Barbara Lee, voted against a resolution supporting military force against the perpetrators of 9/11—the only congressman in the entire nation who voted No.

Since September 11, Berkeley has witnessed the beating of Orthodox Jews, circulars comparing the U.S. Army to the Ku Klux Klan, and calls for the divestiture of the city’s investments in Israel. And not long ago, the city of Berkeley forbade fire trucks to display the American flag. The sight of Old Glory, officials claimed, might inflame protestors and distract firefighters from their appointed tasks.

Yet all this was a mere prelude to Berkeley’s latest and most extravagant gesture. In a move that could give solipsism a bad name, City Council members passed a momentous resolution this summer, declaring that “the space 60 kilometers and above the City of Berkeley is a space-based weapons-free zone.”

Somehow, our military pilots will get over it, just as most Americans will keep scoffing at the place they call Berserkeley. To them, a city that execrates the American flag, the army, navy, and marines, the Middle East’s only democracy, and all people whose politics are to the right of North Korea’s, may justly be viewed as flyover country.

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