If the shootings in Garland, Texas, this week were a wake-up call, they surely weren’t the first. It’s as if we’ve been hitting the snooze button each time radical Islam sounds an alarm of violence against free speech. It’s time to pay attention to the problem and its causes. It’s time to stop rolling over and going back to sleep.
The disgruntling truth of First Amendment speech protections is that they exist largely to safeguard thoughts people find repugnant. Popular, gentle, even friendly communications are rarely snuffed out or attacked. They rarely need to be protected. The Ku Klux Klan marches, its opponents countermarch, and the cops stand between them, ensuring everyone’s rights.
There always have been people in the United States who didn’t really believe free speech was for folks with whom they disagreed. But they mostly didn’t shoot, bomb or attack. Now it’s different. At the 2013 Boston Marathon and on Sunday in Texas, we saw people taking aim at American values with deadly intent.
To be clear, the woman who offered a prize in Garland for the cartoonist who best lampooned the prophet Muhammad is a skilled, often cynical provocateur. The fact that she had the right to hold such a contest, a direct reference to the type of drawings that provoked the Charlie Hebdo massacre in France, does not mean it was a responsible thing to do. Purposely insulting people’s religious beliefs is unlikely to lead to positive outcomes.
But again, it is allowed. Freedom of expression is what we stand for. And if there is a trend taking shape in this country of people responding with violence to ideas they don’t like, that trend needs to be watched and stopped.
The right of free expression in the United States will not be diminished. The actions of a radical fringe do nothing to achieve their goals.
Instead, they bring suspicion and prejudice upon millions of peaceful Americans who share their religion but not their fanaticism.