I give a questionnaire each semester to my “Introduction to News Writing and Reporting” class to get to know students better.

“Who was your best teacher and why?” “What rumors have you heard about me?” “John Lennon or John Mayer?”

A few semesters back, I included this question: “What should happen to someone in this class who gets caught cheating?”

With the answers came the expected penalties such as a failing grade on the assignment, some kind of extra work involving ethical decision making and ousting the culprit from class.

But one student wrote this: “Off with his head!”

It seems some folks in Afghanistan took the student’s suggestion to heart. Media outlets report that a student journalist in Afghanistan printed a news story from the Web and discussed it in class. Reuters news service reported that the article offended some classmates, who found it critical of the “Koran.” They complained to school officials.

Reporters Without Borders told CNN.com that Sayed Perwiz Kaambakhsh, 23, went to trial behind closed doors on charges of distributing anti-Islamic propaganda. The tribunal returned a “guilty” ruling, and unless Kaambakhsh successfully appeals or the nation’s president overturns it, the student loses his head.

Some say the real cause for Kaambakhsh’s troubles come from his brother, also a journalist and apparently not a very popular one with some folks in Afghanistan’s religious community. But something tells me that Kaambakhsh might represent a bigger issue.

Reuters reports this: “Since the ouster of the Taliban's radical Islamic government in 2001, dozens of newspapers and other publications, some funded by foreigners, have sprung up in Afghanistan, which is going through a wave of press freedom unprecedented in its history.”

Freedom means power. Those who have it rarely want to give it up. All those in authority, including government, want to keep it, even our government.

This week, my students in “Press Law” discussed the roots of this thing called “freedom” and the Bill of Rights. They wrestled with the challenges it brings.

I took freedom out of the context of colonial history, fodder for essay exams and patriotic smack. I challenged students to embrace it, cherish it and fight for it. I told them that when some very forward-thinking patriots wrote that freedom into law, the battle to be free didn’t end.

It started.

My students, indeed all students, need to see the Constitution not as a historic relic but as ongoing marching orders from the founders to work each day in some way to maintain freedom, to better our country and to ensure that we leave it and a better world behind. We live in a world where most people measure their freedom in seconds.

We cannot let that become the way we live. Active participation in civic life can ensure it will not.

I ended class today by asking my students to consider how crazy the framers of the Constitution really were — how absolutely naive they were to believe that a government beholding to that kind of document could ever work.

“They were wackjobs,” I said, borrowing that word from a student who used it to describe a religious group that he considered on the fringe of decent behavior.

Yet, so far, the Constitution the “wackjobs” created — one based on freedom ensured by an informed citizenry — works.

For the sake of people like Sayed Perwiz Kaambakhsh, I hope it can work in other countries, too.


This a great example of how Afghanistan is a backwards country that we should stop trying to reform and leave immediatly.


The U.S. is not the first country to wade into Afghanistan's business and try to change its government and culture, as I noted in another blog. The "hook" for the U.S. seems to be the idea that the Taliban and Al Qaeda work hand-in hand to impart terror on the region and the world. Supporters of the Afghan effort say that alone requires a U.S. presence. But the Soviets learned after 10 bloody years (with the U.S. supporting the Afghans fighting them) that it's a losing proposition. History seems to show the same will play out for the U.S. Thanks for the post. Mac


I agree with you on how “we live in a world where people measure their freedom in seconds”. I realized my guilt in measuring as I thought back on certain days in our history where I felt closer to our flag than the previous day. The day I wanted to make a difference for the sake of our country.

On September 11, 2000, our security blanket of Oceans was peeled back as we were attacked in our own land so free.

July 27, 1996, the bombing in Atlanta during the Centennial Olympics that killed one and injured 111 others, seemed to bring terrorism right to our back door.

I recalled the fear brought by August 2, 1990, the day Iraq invaded Kuwait beginning the Persian Gulf War.

January 16, 1991, Operation Desert Storm, brought that fear closer to my own home. My husband was sent to war to fight for a country that did not even recognize our Constitution. If they had our Constitution, would we have had to fight that fight?

Wonderful pieces of work … your post and our Constitution. Does the Constitution still work for us? I feel it does most definitely! If it did not work, I would not be able to name those dates in American history when I “measured my freedom in seconds” of fear.


What makes you think the Constitution is working?


There is beauty in simplicity, and I really like your question because it’s simple. I think the Constitution does work — but not perfectly and certainly not all the time, which seems logical to me with such a sweeping document. In my lifetime, I think the Constitution fails to work when it is used as a sword rather than a shield and when it is viewed as a destination rather than an endless road map. When I look at the time and place it was created, I ask, “Were things much different then than they are now or have been in countries that wrestle with freedom and try to shape constitutions?” The population in the colonies was very diverse in many ways. Most of the people were Christians but there were many interpretations of the faith (Iraq). The rights of Indigenous people were discounted or ignored (news from Australia this week and South Africa in the early 1990s). Some violently opposed freedom from England (back to Iraq). The issues of state rights versus central government stood at the forefront(former Soviet Union and Iraq again). So, compared with other places where constitutions exist or are being shaped, I think saying it works is safe. I also talk to folks a lot about what I call the way we embrace the Constitution selectively, viewing it as a menu and ordering a la carte instead of the entree. I’ll write about that more down the road — if I do not get canned. My answer should be as simple as your question. Thanks for posting. Mac McKerral


That's a thoughtful and considered response, and I thank you. Though, as a journalist, I know to discount such contentless statements from my colleagues as "The population in the colonies was very diverse in many ways," I see the substance in your general points.

Methinks you are right that the Constitution is a road map and not a destination, but to my mind, that is no more than saying that, in a structured way, we make it up as we go along.

In that sense, I suppose, it works. Madison would have said the same while drafting a Constitition protecting slavery in order to win ratification; Lincoln as much while transgressing the Constitution's limits on involuntary federal military service to save the Union; and F.D.R. the same to justify the erection of a bureaucracy that the Founders likely would not have countenanced to save the country from capitalism.

Whether those outcomes were good or not, they demonstrate that except in an ad hoc way, it may not be safe to say that the Constitution works.


"Contentless" as in lacking substance? I am crushed! Not really. Actually, you also were thoughtful in your response. And you cite some good examples of what I refer to as "selectively embracing" the Constitution. But isn't a signature of law working its fluidity — making it up as we go along? Best- Mac


First of all, good piece. Second, I think that it is very unfortunate that other countries cannot live as freely as we do, but the fact of the matter is that they do not have a Bill of Rights that guarantees the personal freedoms we so much enjoy, and often take for granted. The case discussed is absolutely appalling, but until other countries adopt a set of guidelines such as ours, it is seemingly unreasonable to compare their moral standards to ours. Let's just continue to hope for an implementation of such guidelines--for the citizens sake, and especially for the journalists' sake. Until then, there isn't much we can do.


You post a very insightful response. And I agree with the idea that trying to force others to use our moral compass diminishes the choices others have. In my perfect world, our country would lead by example, and individuals in other countries would use their individual innate rights (that they came into the world with and that are not "bestowed" but rather protected by government) to become active in civic life and thus make changes for themselves. Thanks! Mac McKerral


Thanks for the kind posting. I agree that we often get caught up in the “immediate” rather than the important. If each person could find one thing in civic life that he or she is really passionate about — and then connect with others of a similar ilk — the country we live in would change drastically and for the better. Write on!

Mac McKerral


I came here by DIGGing, so I do not know much (to say the least) of this site. But, your article is great. The worlds needs people who talks about big values. Someone who pleases everyone's conscences by saying what every conscience is thirsty of. I started a blog (getaware.blogspot.com), a few weeks from now, on this very urge. I cannot write much, but what I can, I'll do. Because that's what's needed, that's what's right. If any one single person will fell relieved by reading it...

I felt relieved in reading your article. Thank you, Professor.


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