published Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Cook: Winking at freedom

This whole freedom thing? No one ever said it would be easy. You want easy, move to North Korea.

So before we talk about burning flags and winking at Muslims, let's settle on this: freedom is messy. Freedom takes hard work. Freedom demands maturity.

Lots of times, freedom means restraint.

Over in Coffee County, a commissioner named Barry West recently posted a Facebook image of a grizzled old cowboy with one eye closed aiming his double-barreled shotgun straight at the camera. Above him, the all-caps phrase "HOW TO WINK AT A MUSLIM."

For that, he's made national news, and fielded phone calls from big folks with badges. Tuesday night, U.S. Attorney Bill Killian traveled to Manchester to host a public conversation on civil rights, free speech and Muslims in America.

On one side: conservatives ticked at political correctness, wondering what the big fuss is all about. On the other: Tennessee Muslims who realize how easily a Facebook shotgun can turn into a real one.

(NBC's Star Jones, an attorney, recently called social media "the new Ku Klux Klan white hood ... It allows you to be anonymous and to say the kinds of things you would never say to a person to their face.")

For all its foolishness, the West Wink is a geopolitical microcosm, something worth examining.

West is coming from a perspective that many white Southerners find themselves in. A sort of social vertigo. The feeling of being lost in your own backyard. Kind of like going to sleep in your own bed and, next morning, waking up in, say, Zimbabwe.

These folks? Their America is slipping away, like a rope right out of their hands. The question that most haunts them: What has happened to the country I love?

Their conservative anger is often healthy, a balance to the liberal nonresponse. Few liberals would have suggested Tennessee ban Sharia Law (as many conservative lawmakers tried to do) yet anyone watching the news out of London (Muslim radicals beheading citizens) can see the problems with turning a blind eye to Islamic migration.

(A good read: Melanie Phillips' "Londonistan," which states that British liberalism allowed radical Muslims to openly turn London into the headquarters for terrorism in the Western world.)

"If you're going to harm this country, I'm not in favor of you," West told the Tullahoma News.

Couldn't agree more. But West's fallacy is to project onto all Muslims the nightly news archetype: the terrorist who beheads, attacks, subjugates.

Yes, this Muslim exists, and needs to be either arrested or enlightened. But this Muslim is not the only Muslim. And ignorant violence is not exclusive to global Islam.

This other Muslim? Generous, gentle, compassionate. Would give West their last piece of bread and then begin to bake him more. They pledge the flag, pick up trash, pay taxes, help the poor.

If West knew this Muslim, he would less likely aim his Facebook shotgun their way.

(Ironically, on West's political forum Facebook page, he promises to censor anyone making aggressive comments. "If you start lambasting anyone, I WILL remove you!" he tells members.)

The terrible beauty of freedom requires us to open our doors to things that make us uncomfortable while rejecting a double standard of freedom that allows some things but not others.

If we are able to burn the Koran, we must also burn the American flag.

If we stand to salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, we must also honor and respect those who don't. (Try it sometime. See what happens.)

Yes, West should get to post and re-post a thousand times his Wink image, even though it's worth about as much as a slop bucket.

And this means Muslims -- freely, without fear -- ought to worship in a mosque they can build right down the road from the Baptist church.

What we must develop, like a forgotten muscle, is the restraint and wisdom that would keep West from his Facebook wink.

Our beloved Bill of Rights grants us freedom of expression. It is time we develop a Bill of Responsibilities, which would require us to grow up.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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Walden said...

"And ignorant violence is not exclusive to global Islam."

While this may have some truth to it, Islam sure does seem to be at the center of ignorant violence these days, heh? When's the last time you heard of a Christian beheading someone because they don't accept Christ, or flying a plane into a building, etc. Let's don't project the craven violence of Islamists onto everyone.

June 5, 2013 at 9:09 a.m.
Leaf said...

Walden, while you have somewhat of a point, there was that guy who shot up a Sikh temple in Wisconsin because he thought that they were muslims, and a few other isolated incidents. And one could argue that there is a fair amount of anti-muslim sentiment in the military. I'm not positive that we would have invaded Iraq if it were a Christian nation, for example.

My point is, it's not the particular religion itself that makes people more fanatical, it's the culture and recent history. Though one could also argue that belief in any religion makes a person more susceptible through conditioning to believing those who would manipulate them for political or other purposes.

June 5, 2013 at 9:55 a.m.
rumrunr said...

well stated, mr. cook

June 5, 2013 at 10:17 a.m.
Walden said...

Leaf, your example is extremely isolated and anecdotal, to say the least, but you pretty much admit that in your comment. Anti-muslim sentiment in the military, to the extent it exists, is no different than anti-German or anti-Japanese sentiment that existed during World War II (e.g. it is very understandable given who the enemy du jour happens to be). I'm not aware of any Christians (or otherwise) walking into a commissary on a military base in this country and shooting up a bunch of Muslims simply becuase they are Muslim (brush up on the Fort Hood "workplace violence" massacre if you will). If Iraq had been a Christian nation (which, by the way, there is no such thing on this planet), I rather doubt there would have been cause to invade in the first place.

June 5, 2013 at 10:40 a.m.
marmadukegarcia said...

Handwringer Dave, why not call them 'bitter clingers' and be done with it. This purposely provocative meeting would have generated justified anger if it had been in New York City or Madison, Wisconsin.

June 5, 2013 at 11:48 a.m.
klifnotes said...

I think many Americans still don't get it. It's not about Muslims verses Christians, west verses middle east. It's about western and European brutal and torterous foreign policies that's been taking place for decades in those regions that's creating radical responses.

Just imagine America or any European country as the foreign land that some outside forces invaded and brutally occupied. Torturing, raping and killing innocent civilians with impunity.Bombing, vaporizing and wiping out entire villages. Imagine the angry and hostility that would arise from that. Imagine Americans putting aside all their differences and coming together to fight what they see as a common foe.

One nations' freedom fighters are the others' nation's terrorists. Those terrorists could just as well belong to any country, even America when America feels threatened. We've already had a inkling of how Americans react when threatened. No matter how small the threat. Imagine some nation or nations dropping bombs, killing, maiming ravaging the land and its people on an almost daily and sometimes hourly basis.

It's not about ringing in democracy, and you don't liberate people by dropping bombs on them. You kill them. That's not liberation. That's death.

June 5, 2013 at 3:23 p.m.
jesse said...

The Brits set the stage for ALL of this at the end of ww1!when they devided up the mid east borders and created a coupla new countries that never existed before!When you deal w/the mid east you are not dealing w/ nations BUT Tribes!! The TRIBE TRUMPS every thing else!

June 5, 2013 at 4:54 p.m.
klifnotes said...

Right, jesse. Kuwait was once actually a part of Iraq. Then decades ago Britain went in, carved out a portion of Iraq, set down stakes and called it Kuwait the country (a separate country from Iraq). I have an old map of Iraq dated around the 1940s or 1950s somewhere.

The plans to invade the middle east dates back to the 1950s or even before.

June 5, 2013 at 8:10 p.m.
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