Us, Them, and Good Men: Choosing Sides on Offensive Speech

“None can love freedom heartily but good men;the rest love not freedom, but license.” — John Milton

The world is comprised of two groups of people—us and them—from which we are constantly resorting and regrouping. Right/Left, Red State/Blue State, Black/White, Arab/Jew. In times of normalcy, this shifting of allegiances and drawing of tribal lines occurs at a leisurely pace. But in times of perceived crisis, such as the recent murder of a dozen French satirists, the process accelerates at breakneck speed.From reading about this latest terrorist attack one could get the impression that it was the epicenter of the “clash of civilizations” between Islam and Western liberalism. Turning from a tragedy to a farce, the affair has reinforced the stereotype of Muslims as violent totalitarians and of Westerners as profane libertines. Reacting to this caricature, many otherwise thoughtful people feel they have to side with the puerile satirists for fear of giving the impression of kowtowing to the Islamic extremists.My preference would be to reject this false dichotomy, for I do not support the aims of the French magazine—I am not Charlie Hebdo —nor do I support the violent Muslim protestors. I’d prefer another grouping of “us and them.” Like Milton, I prefe

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