Here are a handful of things that we ought to be able to agree on:
- ISIS does not render the entire Islamic religion evil
- The Unabomber does not taint the entire environmental movement
- The Weather Underground’s terrorism did not invalidate the anti-Vietnam War movement’s claims
- A paranoid lunatic with a record of hating indiscriminately and behaving violently shooting up an abortion clinic is not the fault of the pro-life movement
The NewAtheists cannot be fairly blamed for Larry Gene Ashbrook, a violent paranoiac who, in 1999, shot and killed seven Texas Baptists while spouting hateful rhetoric about Christians
There is a limit to this line of thinking. Apologists for Communism today maintain that Stalinism was an aberration, which is provably untrue. There has never been a communist society that was not a human rights nightmare. Similarly with Nazism. Over a decade of anti-Semitic propaganda in the German press preceding the Nazi takeover laid the groundwork for the Shoah.
It could happen here, and we had better not forget it.
In our society today, though, we face far more of a threat to free discourse from people who would demonize ordinary speech and belief. Note that I said “demonize,” not “criticize”; criticism is important, and a way of discerning good ideas from bad ones. It is to be expected that political partisans would try to silence their opponents by framing their opponents’ beliefs and words as dangerous. This is what the whole SJW “safe space” movement is about: silencing legitimate dissent.
At this time and place, it’s far more important to resist those who would shout down dissent in the name of “safety.” Today, that threat comes from left-wingers and pro-choicers who are exploiting an act of terror by a mentally ill man to discredit pro-life critics. Tomorrow it may come from right-wingers trying to intimidate and gag their opponents with smear tactics.
There is only one way to have a completely “safe space” with regard to speech: to live in a police state, where nobody can say anything that isn’t officially approved. Is that really what you want? Really? I think more than a few Americans would support that, as long as their side was the one in power.