Protect America’s Tolerant Society

Eric Waters, Columnist

Muslims are not America’s enemies. Not all of them desire to bring down all that America represents. The vast majority of them are peaceful and want a better tomorrow for everyone.

That being said, I find that we increasingly live in a world where Muslim extremists can dictate political, and in some cases even personal, decisions made in this country. Think about that for a second. Are we really free to do what we want? Or does the threat of terrorism so pervasively invade our minds that we must consider it before making any choices?

While it would be completely deplorable to burn a Qur’an, the Bible or the American flag, we, as American citizens, are entitled to a sacred right of free speech that allows us to express ourselves perhaps at the cost of the comfort of others. Florida pastor, Terry Jones, eventually canceled a Qur’an burning event due to this hovering threat. Even though the burning was his own protest to the mosque at Ground Zero, Jones had to call of his program for fear of the extremists’ retaliation against people half-way across the world (not to mention the potential threat against his own life). I am in no way supporting or condoning what he proposed, and it was no doubt a provocative and emotionally charged idea, but I’ll be damned if it is not within his right to protest in this way. It was the proper decision to abandon the event, not because of the threat of retaliation or how offensive the act may have been to some, but simply because it was the right thing to do. In short, America is a country that remains tolerant of certain behaviors it does not actually support.

These types of threats cannot escape even the comic, pop-culture world. In an episode of the animated Comedy Central show South Park, an attempt to include a depiction of Muhammad sparked outrage and uproar. The creators of the show, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, take on all types of controversial issues, a cartoon depiction of Muhammad being no exception. However, when the episode was set to air, Comedy Central edited it and removed all mentions of Muhammad. This edit happened for fear of retaliation, as one extremist group threatened that Stone and Parker would suffer the same fate as Theo Van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker murdered for his depiction of Muhammad.

This is not the first time that there has been controversy surrounding a Muhammad depiction. A Seattle Weekly cartoonist, Molly Norris, went into post-assassination-threats hiding just weeks after drawing a satirical cartoon calling for a “Draw Muhammad Day.” There also were murder plots against Danish cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard, whose depiction of Muhammad with a ticking bomb in his turban essentially began the cartoon controversies. Again, we see societies that normally would be tolerant of such actions caving to the threats of Muslim extremists.

The line is drawn. Will we live in a world of tolerance or will we live in a world where simply drawing a cartoon can come with calls for your life? Is this the kind of threatening environment in which we want to live? The evidence is overwhelming to support the notion that our freedom of speech and democratic beliefs are under attack.

And where does this end? It is well known that the Muslim extremists disagree with almost every aspect of the American way of life. So, what do we do when they decide to start threatening Americans for something in which more of us may be involved, when voting or attending a church or synagogue will spark calls for retaliation?

Will we forfeit those rights as well and fold to their threats of violence? So, how do we confront Muslim extremism in an area where they have clearly succeeded? The answer is not simple.

I’ll start by drawing a distinction between confrontation in the theater of war and confrontation in the theater of ideas. The United States is currently involved in several military campaigns to confront Muslim extremism, but militaries have boundaries–physical or otherwise. (I want to clarify that I am in no way belittling the work and sacrifice of so many of our service men and women, I agree with much that has been done militarily. My point, instead, is that this fight is two-pronged.) There is another front in this fight that resides in the theater of ideas, and it starts right at home with you!

Ideas do not have boundaries. We must show the Muslim world that the idea of tolerant societies leads to more freedom and success, that the idea of tolerance and understanding leads to less confrontation not more. This is how we ultimately crush a Muslim extremism based on fear and brutal enforcement of their own twisted ideology.

Generation Y, we are growing up in a dangerous world and we have two choices: We can bow to the demands of these Muslim extremists and voluntarily surrender our rights one by one until we have none left, or we can stand up to the intimidation. Our country’s defiant saying has always been “don’t tread on me.” Why start allowing anyone to do so now?

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