Religious extremism is nothing new to our world. Many extremist individuals and groups have branched out from major religions in many regions. In recent decades the most notable of religious extremism arguably has been in the form of radical Islam. While radical Islamists are by no means the only religious extremists in our world today, they have been responsible for some of the widest scale terrorist acts of recent years and even recent days – particularly 9/11; attacks in Africa, Europe, and the MidEast; and most recently in San Bernadino. However, some people both within and outside Islam, take issue with associating this religion with this particular brand of extremism. They argue that the violence of groups like ISIS is not condoned by Muslims more broadly and thus should not be associated with Islam. I agree with this argument as much as I agree that as a Christian I wouldn’t want Christianity associated with extremists who pursue violence in the name of Christianity and do not actually reflect the religion. However, the reticence to identify a specific form of extremism because of a religious reference seems short-sighted in the broader effort to address the resulting violence and terrorism. What we need to recognize is that fighting religious extremism is not fighting religion.
Free speech is often hailed among the most significant of our fundamental freedoms. In the Western world in particular, freedom of speech and press has allowed for a range of voices, including voices of dissent that seem to indicate that our democracy is in a sense working. However, free speech is not completely free. There are limits and curbs based on what may be of greater importance in various contexts – such as if the speech might endanger others. That is why we can’t yell “fire” in a theater as a joke – the potential chaos and harm it raises in that context outweighs some one’s freedom to say what they want.