When name-calling descends to divisive intolerance over the right name to call terrorists who killed 12 innocent victims in France, it is time for a time out to focus on the real issue: Uniting the vast spectrum of opinions behind the principle that anyone who seeks to use death to muzzle free speech is an enemy of every form of speech.
The world is still trying to comprehend the sheer level of brutality demonstrated this past week in France. Executing someone for what they believe is a foreign concept to those of us who live in civilized Western countries. For some, this type of violence is a way of life, but for the rest of us, it is a reminder of how lucky we are to live in a society where all thoughts are respected and welcomed. Or are they?
In the past few days, on top of the predictable outpourings of grief and anguish, there have been crescendos of tension between the left and the right. Many on the right see this tragedy as yet another radical Islamic attack that shows this problem has spun out of control. Many on the left see it as a terrorist attack that shouldn’t be associated with any religious group. Political pundit Howard Dean even went so far as to say that these terrorists aren’t really Muslim. Many on the left are insistent that conservatives should keep their mouths shut and not use this tragedy to proclaim the dangers of radical Islam. Many on the right insist that liberals who refuse to call this terrorism are on the side of the terrorists. Regardless of what side you are on, whether you believe all Muslims are terrorists, or whether you believe that these terrorists aren’t Muslim, you have a right to say what you believe. Anyone who tries to silence you is the real criminal.
Twelve people died because of free speech. They died because a group of radical Islamists wanted a bloodbath and used free speech as a trigger for their actions. In the aftermath of this, with both sides of the political spectrum now proclaiming the virtues of free speech, how can we continue to try to silence each other? How does that make us any better than the terrorists? It doesn’t. If we continue to try to silence those we don’t agree with, we aren’t any better than those we claim to be against. Free speech is what sets us apart from these criminals.
Our society has always been one that welcomes political discourse. We argue about everything. That’s one secret to American greatness: people debate everything in order to achieve the best possible outcome. The solution to Islamic extremism will be found in this way as well. Neither side has the correct answer. However, in order for us to solve this problem, we need to sit down and talk, not go on various news outlets and insult the other side.
We cannot let these attacks divide us. In France, it already has. A massive rally planned for Sunday is already becoming heated because of the refusal to invite France’s “far-right” (known as the National Front) to the rally. This is no way to heal after a devastating attack. People were just executed for what they believed in, and now France is going to prevent people from attending a rally because of what they believe in? How does that honor the victims? How does that promote healing and unity? It doesn’t. In increases the tension, and only helps the terrorists. They prey on our division, our weakness. Where we are weak, they are strong.
We don’t have to agree with each other. We never will. But we should be civilized enough to not silence each other. The same freedom of speech that allows a leftist wing nut to go on air and say that these journalists brought this on themselves, allows a right wing radical to go on air and say that all Muslims are terrorists. Neither one is correct, but they both have a right to say it. The freedom of speech that gives them that right also gives us the right to disagree with them, to counter their statements with ones of our own until cooler heads prevail.
We need to accept reality. We need to accept that the world will never be the same as it was 20 years ago, not in our lifetime anyway. We need to accept that we are at war. Our enemy seeks to destroy us, not only with bullets and bombs, but also by sowing discourse and hatred within our ranks. They know that they can never defeat us if we are united. We are too strong for them. But if we fall to infighting and bickering, then we are doing exactly what they want.
Great people debating what was best founded America. Extremists screaming at each other and trying to prevent each other from sharing their viewpoint didn’t. No one side has the solution to every problem. But if we work together, if we become and nation united against this threat, we can stop them. We have the ability to prevail, but do we have what it takes to come together?
To those on the right, and those on the left, the choice is yours:
Join together…or die separately.
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