In deeming the political censorship of artists as an appropriate response to audience complaints, Dana Cañedo and Jimmie Duhon confuse unity with conformity ("Don't Play It Again, Sam," May 18). Unity is about bringing people of different viewpoints together to celebrate the commonalities that exist between us. Conformity is about silencing or altering different viewpoints so that in the end only one remains.

If a policy of "not allowing" artists with diverging viewpoints to perform at the festival is implemented, our country will have one less claim to the democratic ideals we profess to foster around the world, and Southwest Louisiana will have greatly weakened an international reputation for tolerance and acceptance.

Cañedo states that her "biggest concern was that the band would be treated unfairly." Although her sincerity is not in question, it is clear that the only unfairness came with her request that The Mammals refrain from expressing themselves on their own terms. She also states a desire to make sure the festival's artist contracts work for "the times we're in," implying that something about the present day makes political expression less viable than at other times. I would argue that when such sentiments are considered legitimate, the need for divergence is greater than ever.

Duhon reveals a grave misunderstanding of international bands whose music is based on political protest when he states that such musicians wouldn't have an issue with speech restrictions because "they're speaking against dictatorship, and they're pro-democracy." He makes the increasingly common and bewildering assumption that being pro-democracy means supporting the American government's policies without question. Our greatest heroes as a nation have always been those who asked the hardest questions and refused simple answers. Lately, many Americans have grown content to accept what they're told at face value, and that is our loss. The idea that an artist such as Thomas Mapfumo ' a frequent political exile whose musical style is named for the revolutionary movement he helped inspire in Zimbabwe ' would give up his rights to play at any particular festival is absurd.

Political dissent makes people uncomfortable, as it should. Comfort and freedom do not coexist easily ' when one grows, the other shrinks. We must not become complacent, even in situations where there appears to be no malevolent intent. In the words of George Washington, "If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter."

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