What happens when we let fear, muddled thinking, ignorance, and political correctness guide us in confronting a threat to our constitutional freedoms?
We lose everything.
In the United States, our ability to enjoy our rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness rests largely on the protection the First Amendment accords to freedom of speech and its corollary, the freedom to exercise the religion of our choice – or, of course, to profess no religion at all. It follows, then, that we should both vigorously defend the First Amendment and subject to withering criticism any challenges to it. If we begin dodging or concealing the truth about a threat to free speech, whether out of fear of appearing improper or even of knowing the consequences, we place ourselves at risk of losing our freedom of speech – and everything else we cherish in a democracy.
Speech consists of words. Words and how we use them matter. So, in the annals of self-defeating political inanities, the Obama administration’s term for Islamist terrorism – “violent extremism” – stands out as unusually obfuscatory, semantically unsound, and craven. (The phrase encompasses other kinds of terrorist doctrines as well, but no one can fail to see which one in particular is being addressed.) Originating as ISIS-inspired attacks were starting to hit the United States, it baldly omits their motivating ideology and purports that “extremism” can exist as a rootless, groundless, free-floating phenomenon. The term was so patently contrived to avoid mention of Islam that Republican candidate Donald J. Trump, during last year’s presidential campaign, could appear courageous to many just by saying “Islamic terrorism.” Yet coining the insipid phrase “violent extremism” was just par for the course. Former President Obama’s repeated declarations that the faith in question had nothing to do with all the bombing, beheading, and machete-slashing carried out to the cry of “Allahu Akbar!” looked, at best, cowardly – and at worst, complicit. Hillary Clinton followed Obama’s lead on the matter – all the way to a historic loss at the polls.