The difference between terrorism and hate crimes

In light of the most recent, and lamentable, tragedy in which people were senselessly murdered by a young man with affiliations to radical Islam; once again people are calling out each other for their selective use of the word “terrorist”. Which is understandable given how quickly the event is being politicized. If the left is quick to stack the bodies of mass shooting victims to prop up gun control legislation, then the right is just as fast at crafting immigration legislation with the blood of the victims of terrorism.

But, aside from partisan mutual accusations of hypocrisy and selective outrage, terrorism has real meaning. And so do other crimes.

There is a real reason for why members of law enforcement – you know, the people who are actually doing something to stop these horrible events from happening – characterize some mass murders as terrorism, and not others.

Terrorism: is a tactic. It’s not about the number of victims; there seems to be a misapprehension that if a lot of people are deliberately killed, it must be called a terrorist attack. “How can you not say it’s terrorism when so many people have been murdered?” is the complaint.

But acts of terrorism can have no casualties. Not even injured. Terrorism is a tactic where someone – a terrorist – tries to effect political change by instilling fear in the population. So burning a bunch of trucks – where no one was even injured – still counts as an act of terrorism, because the objective was to cause political change by threatening damage (property damage, but damage nonetheless). To make people afraid of doing certain things, or to do certain things out of fear.

Other examples of terrorism include one of the FBI’s most wanted domestic terrorists, who hasn’t killed or injured anyone. He burned buildings to try to prevent animal testing.

Terrorism is not an euphemism for “really awful crime”, since many – in fact, the majority – of terrorist acts don’t have any fatalities, and very frequently no injured. However, they instill or intend to instill fear in the population with the objective of influencing policy.

Consequently, understanding the motive is necessary to determine whether a crime is terroristic in nature or not. Most often, terrorists want their cause to be known, and will advertise it quite heavily – frequently, terrorist activity is meant to call attention to a cause. They leave pamphlets, publish manifestos, call the media, etc. Therefore, a terrorist attack is usually quite quickly identified as such.

We shouldn’t confuse the tactic with the method. A terrorist attack is a tactic; a “lone wolf” – that is, a person acting on their own without accomplices and support from an organization – is a way of identifying the relationship that the perpetrator has with other potential attackers. A terrorist can be a “lone wolf” or can be part of a terrorist organization.

But a “lone wolf” can often not be a terrorist. A man with suicidal tendencies who is dealing with frustration from being rejected by women might go on a killing spree as a “lone wolf” – but since his motivation is not to change policy by instilling fear – though his actions can be quite terrifying – he’s not a terrorist.

This is what leads a lot of people to be confused when sometimes an attacker is called a lone wolf, another a terrorist, and sometimes an attacker is called both.

There is another category which is where an assailant commits an act of terror along with another more egregious crime; Dylann Roof – who murdered 9 people in a church in Charlestown with the objective of starting a race war, because he hated black people – fits the definition of terrorist. He was trying to affect policy by instilling fear – start a race war – and he committed damage. He fits the definition of terrorist.

But he’s also a white supremacist and committed a hate crime; he targeted people based on their skin color. This is a much more concerning crime than terrorism – after all, terrorism is a tactic; but his driving motivation was his hatred of black people – so he’s not considered a terrorist because focusing on the fact that he’s a white supremacist mass murderer is more important. In the same way that a thief who kills someone in a botched robbery is called a killer, and not a thief.

Distinguishing between what kind of crime was committed is important, because that affects policy responses to it; how we as a society deal with a lone wolf is different than how we deal with someone who is part of an organization. And how we deal with terrorism is different than how with deal with racial supremacy, and someone “snapping” due to some internal mental problem.

Calling certain tragedies terrorism and others not is relevant to how we discuss a response to them; and while calling out bias in application is not by itself wrong, if it is the major focus of you interest in the event… well, maybe you need different priorities.

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Amoral masculinity, and Trump’s appeal

The eminent Christina Hoff Sommers was recently quoted in a very interesting article in Vox, the salient point I’m posting below to respond to:

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Let’s forget about the political implications of Reagan, Obama, and even Trump for now. People are passionate about those political figures and that emotional effervescence can distract us with politics, keeping us from considering the core issue of the piece: masculinity and moral temperance.

Sommers’ observation implies, in simple terms, the existence of three types of masculinity. She describes the first two: the “amoral aggressive” type who lashes out without a guide; and the “moral aggressive” type who is assertive within constraints. But there is a third type which is implied, and by not bringing it up, she misses its importance with her discussion of Trump supporters in the last paragraph quoted above.

That third type is when “moral” considerations have tempered a man’s masculinity to the point that he’s no longer assertive or aggressive in his pursuit of goals. Not mentioning this category is unfortunate, because it covers the majority of men – and an increasing majority. It also covers the majority of politicians.

If history has taught us that masculinity without ethics is dangerous, it also shows that masculinity without moral courage is useless. And it’s precisely this lack of moral courage that fuels the anti-PC crowd, and, beyond that, support towards a more aggressive and less constrained masculinity as seen in Trump.

Politics is awash in spineless men who plead morality as an excuse for cowardice and self-interest. The type who claim that we need to negotiate with North Korea, because it would be “immoral” to risk a war with a dictator who regularly imprisons and tortures millions of people. The type who virtue signal about respecting women as a cover for their own creepy, seedy assaults on women (forget Weinstein, think Weiner). The type who states the truth, but then backs down in the face of a media campaign (47% of people, in fact, do not pay Federal Income Tax).

While it’s true that masculinity needs to be tempered by a moral compass, society has constructed such a restrictive and binding moral compass in the form of PC, Title IX, and others, that it’s no longer a compass but a yoke. That someone manages to cast off the yoke – even if they “overcorrect” to the point of not having a compass – will have a certain level of appeal.

People – including many women – are thus able to admire vulgarity and ruthlessness simply because it helps destroy that overbearing, restrictive and frankly impossible “moral” expectations on men. You can hope they are exceptions, but there will be increasingly more exceptions as long as we keep ignoring the assault on masculine assertiveness.

Basically, male assertiveness has been so far suppressed that many are simply no longer afraid of what unrestrained masculinity can do.

A free man might worry about the excesses of unrestrained anarchy; but a man in a cage will be less likely to question the lack of morals of any who offer to break the lock.

 

Ultimate argument for abortion

So, a twitterer … twitteer? twit? … someone on twitter posted the ultimate argument against the pro-life crowd. It was the best argument, anywhere in the world. Lots of his friends said it was the best argument they’d ever heard. Terrific, amazing argument, people. This is how you win the argument and keep winning until you’re tired of winning:

It piqued my interest a bit because, as it happens, I’m a firefigher. Part of being prepared is to consider scenarios in advance, get a better understanding of them, and then be able to react in the moment with more alacrity. Routinely we do encounter situations where only one person can be saved, and we have to prioritize who gets treated first, and, potentially, who survives and doesn’t (though, evidently, we make the best effort to make sure that doesn’t happen). This is called triage.

Now, obviously Thomlinson here isn’t being realistic with the scenario (frozen embryos are not necessarily viable, just because they exist doesn’t mean there are expectant women who want them, and even if they are, it doesn’t mean implantation will actually result, and a frozen jar of embryos would likely not survive anyway if you removed it, etc.) The point is to be as charitable as possible with his original premise and that implies ignoring a lot of practical things (he clarified later that for the purpose of the example, the embryos would weigh the same as the 5-year-old child).

The problem with that, however, is that you end up assuming so many things that the original premise is quashed: ie in order to make it a rational decision, the embryos have to be in such perfect condition that they were equivalent to 1,000 pregnancies. After all, the abortion debate isn’t about embryos in a steel container, but about women who are pregnant and who will, without any intervening forces, produce a living person. The embryos in a steel can will never produce a human if they are left there. The can is not pregnant. In other words, the more ideal the scenario for this hypothetical…the less it works.

So, how would this scenario play out in real life, with me playing the hypothetical firefighter? Well, I’m perfectly capable of carrying the weight of a person my own size, so around 84Kg (I’ve carried up to 90Kg, but let’s not push it; I’m not getting any younger). The average 5-year-old weighs around 18Kg. The hypothetical embryo case weighs the same as the kid; so I could carry it, the kid, and still have enough carrying capacity to also drag Ariana Grande out from the flames as well (how did she get there?). Option C not existing is only for weaklings!!!

firefighter carrying

But, self-aggrandizement aside, what would really happen depends on triage. And here’s the thing about triage: it’s designed to save as many people as possible, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the value of said people.

If there is a man in a wheelchair, and there is a young girl, both in the same room, triage says that I should carry (or wheel if possible, because let’s be real here) the man in the wheelchair. Why? Because the girl is capable of walking herself. It doesn’t matter if the man in the wheelchair is a serial murderer. It doesn’t even matter if he was there planning to kill the little girl. Fucked up? Think of it this way: I just burst into the room and have no clue what’s going on. I don’t know who he is or who she is. My job is to save as many people as possible. I cannot have the luxury of valuing one person over another.

The idea of who you would save and who you would let die as some measure of who you actually care about works only on a subjective level. But objectivity by definition is not swayed by who it cares more about. And if you are trying to make an objective argument (pro-lifers are full of shit), you can’t use a subjective model to do so.

Triage doesn’t care if you are pro-life, pro-choice, or don’t have an opinion on the issue. It’s practical. The kid is likely to go on to live a happy life and is capable of surviving on his own; the embryos will need a complicated medical procedure to even become a pregnancy. Practically speaking, you save the kid because he’s more likely to survive.

Abortion, and forcing people doesn’t work out how you think

So, according to certain media, there is a bill making its way through the final stages of the Missouri state legislature that could “allow employers and landlords to discriminate against women who use birth control or have had abortions.”

But, I’m not a Missuran (is that a word? Missourian? I think it’s Missourian…) why should I be poking my nose into their issues? It’s none of my business…

See, that’s the problem with this particular bit of legislation – and the legislation that inspired it. Noses going where they aren’t welcome.

There are two “problems” here; or at least, two causes that I sympathize greatly with, and it just so happens that they are on opposite sides.

First is the issue of reproductive rights; what you do with your body isn’t anyone’s business. Even if we’re talking about abortions – and assuming the hypothetical “you” here believes that life starts at conception, and therefore it’s murder – that’s still an issue that aught to be resolved in a court of law. Not by employers, not by landlords – most importantly, because they cannot access a person’s medical information to make an informed decision.

On the other hand (sorry, if you were with me up to here, I might lose you now…) I also sympathize with people being forced to do and pay for things that they find are morally objectionable. (If you’re still here, imagine being forced to pay for conversion therapy… forcing people to pay for other’s treatment still sound like a good idea?) Everyone is entitled to their opinions and beliefs, and we don’t get to just dismiss them if they run contrary to our own, and force people to conform to our ideals.

Now, of course depending on your position in the political spectrum and how much science you know, you’ll probably be more sympathetic to one of these problems than the other. Which is understandable. What isn’t, however, is refusing to consider the other problem because you think your problem is more important.

This is what leads us to the law of unintended consequences being the only piece of legislation that never fails to pass. People focus on their issue, and in the pursuit of their noble goal, ignore the negative side-effects of the legislation they are supporting.

Opposition to this new law won’t be effective if it doesn’t consider the cause; and while “those guys I disagree with over there are just mean and evil and do mean, evily things” is nice to whip up the base into calling legislators and signing online petitions … it’s not the best way to craft legislation – or to prevent a new version of this bill from making the rounds once the activism has died down.

After all, SB-5 was created by the same mechanism; of whipping up a different base by accusing the “other side” of wanting to mean, evily things and they have to be stopped. Damn the consequences, saving innocent children is more important.

It’s this partisan, retaliatory legislative and executive action that ignores the concerns of the people they are reacting against that is the problem. Just stopping SB-5 isn’t going to fix the problem, anymore than passing the bill is fixing the problem. It’s just creating a new and bigger one; because very often people will ignore some of their own issues to force through a bit of legislation that they think is “more important”.

I doubt that the people who support SB-5 are any more amenable to employers being able to look through their employee’s medical records, than people who oppose it are OK with denying people the right to practice their religion. They’re just so focused on the passionate, immediate issue of abortion that they aren’t really stopping to think of all the consequences of what they are advocating for.

And that leads us to having these awful, messy, backwards bills and laws.

Now, my apologies to the citizens of the great and lauded state of Missouri, that I was using you as an example of this issue – and please don’t think I’m trying to tell you how to run your state. Just that… given how hard it was to find information on this bill, it seems more people there should know about it.

 

 

 

The silver lining to interrupting a play

If you’re partial to free speech, like I am, you’re probably unhappy with Laura Loomer’s – accompanied by Jack Posobiec – interruption of the Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar with President Trump referenced in the titular role.

But…

In a way, I can understand why the action was “necessary” <– and I mean to quote there, not mock. Interrupting the play would presumably provoke outrage among the “free speech = hate speech” crowd, who’ve been engaging in much worse antics against free speech lately. They would condemn Ms Loomer’s actions, and it’s useful to point out the hypocrisy of their outrage, and the underlying partisan bent to their “words hurt people” mantra.

Heretofore, there have been largely two groups: those who support free speech regardless of political inclination, and those who demand safe spaces from political speech they disagree with. The latter are most prominently SJWs (though the right does have it’s snowflakes).

shapiro arrested

Free speech activists like myself could remain consistent in advocating for free speech for everyone. No problem there. The problem is that the SJW segment could also be largely consistent in being opposed to what they dubbed harmful speech.

Providing at least a few counter-examples of what the regressive left does, could be said to be necessary to underscore the selective application of their ideological censorship. Barring the existence of their tactics being used against them, they could at least cling to the pretense that they were at least OK with a non-partisan application of their censorship.

By exposing the outrage of these groups against what Ms Loomer and Mr Posobiec did, it shows that their drive for censorship is not directed at limiting violence and hatred, but at silencing their political opposition.

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Of course this comes at a cost, one that’s too steep for a lot of us to bear. Ms Loomer and anyone else who participates in, or defends, these interruptions will have no consistency or moral authority on which to stand up for free speech – at least not without some form of penance for having violated their own principles. I, for one, would not break my principles in this regard, and I completely support and encourage no one else doing so, either.

Those of us who are especially critical of the censorship drives of authoritarian leftism (and, to be fair, rightism), should be wary of being too enthusiastic in condemning Ms Loomer. I understand the motivation; to finally have have a counterexample of anti-SJW snowflakery with which to strengthen our bona fides of standing up for free speech wherever necessary, regardless of political affiliation.

Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire – and while it’s our duty to condemn any attempts at political censorship, we aught not forget the greater good of the forest for the burning trees around us.

This, by no means, excuses what Ms Loomer did. I sympathize. But in the end, her protest is only valuable for the defense of freedom if it’s completely rejected by anyone who supports the free exchange of ideas.

 

#NotAllMuslims is not enough

Following in the wake of the recent terrorist attack perpetuated by radicalized Islamic extremists (it doesn’t matter when you’re reading this; it’s the unfortunate reality of the world today that this sentence is perpetually relevant), there are those who will point out that not all Muslims are terrorists.

This is problematic.

No one with even a minimum amount of sense actually thinks that all Muslims are terrorists. So saying #NotAllMuslims is, at best, stating the obvious, and contributes nothing to the discussion. Yes, the sky is blue, water is wet, and people are still dying.

This is an even bigger problem if you are, yourself, Muslim.

It’s perfectly understandable that in the wake of the horrors of a terrorist attack, and with emotions running high, it will be important to someone who is Muslim to clarify that not all Muslims are terrorists. The problematic part is if this is the only thing they do; and if moving to be defensive of their faith is the first step, and especially if it’s the last.

For starters, there is the issue of perception: by bringing up a defense of Islam when clearly the perpetrator was a deranged lunatic who happened to have the same faith, it just further solidifies the link between the two.

But that’s optics. The real problem is underneath that: Islamic terrorism is by far the most common breed of terrorism in the world:

muslim attacks

To say it has nothing to do with Islam is, at worst, naive.

It’s also an increasing problem:

Terrorist-Attacks-Related-to-Islam

The other fact is that the vast majority of victims of radicalized Islamic terrorism are other Muslims.

terrorist victims

Radicalized Muslim terrorists are people from the Islamic community, who are radicalized within the Islamic community, who then stage attacks which primarily affect the Islamic community. This is clearly a problem within the Muslim community, both worldwide and within individual countries.

When Islamic terrorism strikes in the West, it gets more attention in Western media because it’s a spill-over of something that’s going on in the Muslim community, and is affecting Westerners who are otherwise not involved in the problem. (For example, in Iraq, despite the US invasion in 2003, over 82% of the victims of terrorism are Muslim and Iraqi).

What are Muslims, therefore, doing to tackle this problem within their community? Therein lies the problem:

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Of course Britain is not the world, but we can see a clear problem. At least in the western world, we rely on the community to help prevent violent crime. In any other group, the number of people who would report to the police any potential terrorist is in the high 90s. This is how the police do their job in a free society, in a society that respects people’s rights to privacy, that doesn’t snoop on people’s religious practices, and doesn’t interfere in people’s private activities. They trust that the people will call the police when they see activity that might harm them or others.

I understand that this might be a bit of an alien concept for people who are immigrating form totalitarian countries with secret police who are more interested in affirming the power of the country’s dictator than the security of the people. But most Muslims in the west are not, in fact, immigrants; they grew up in a democratic society, where the police act on the principles of democracy.

However, Muslims are slow to challenge and denounce religious leaders who perpetuate hatred of non-Muslims. They accept the narrative that they are victimized, and must resist government “intrusion” in the form of terrorism prevention by not reporting people who are becoming radicalized.

Saying #NotAllMuslims is a way to wash one’s hands of responsibility to better the community, to weed out potential terrorists who – remember – target other Muslims to a greater degree. Some Muslims take the next step of publicly denouncing terrorists acts once they happen – but because of the timing, for many it seems more in an effort to avoid backlash than a sincere sentiment. Especially after standing up for members of the community who, it turns out, were complicit in the radicalization of others.

The solution to Islamic terrorism is not in the West: it’s in the Muslim communities around the world. How exactly those communities can be convinced to weed out the terrorism in their midst is another question; but the status quo is certainly unsustainable. In the face of increasing radical Muslim attacks, anti-Islam sentiment will only grow, and the reciprocating defensiveness of the Muslim community will likely solidify.

Muslims have the means to put an end to radicalization within their community; it is their responsibility to take the lead here.

Evil people

I hesitate to label people “evil”.

Yes, there are a lot of people out there we could, quite justifiably, call “evil”. I understand the motivation for doing it; it’s about the principle, and pointing out that some people are just irredeemable, causing more harm to the world than any potential good. And for some, it feels good to point those people out; to clearly identify the “bad guys” (and, affirm, by exclusion, their own virtue).

But there is a long-standing historic problem with labeling people as evil. Actions, sure; actions are easily identifiable as evil, and they should be condemned. But if a person is “evil”, it has consequences.

Consider the hypothetical question: If you could go back in time to 1933, for example, and shoot Hitler, would you? While this is an interesting moral thought experiment on about the courage of one’s convictions – there is another element: Most people would, without hesitation, shoot to kill Hitler. Because, he’s evil, you see; killing him would prevent a lot of bad things from happening, and not only is it OK to kill people labeled as “evil” – it’s one’s moral obligation.

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Now, of course Hitler is Godwin-levels of evil, and we have the benefit of hindsight to know that, yes, effectively once he got power, Hitler did all sorts of awful crimes. But, here’s the thing about those atrocities: he – and his cohorts – justified their actions because they’d labeled other people as “evil”. Now, of course, the difference is that we know Hitler was evil, and the Nazis were just labeling their political enemies as evil.

So, when we, today, label a group of people – political enemies – as “evil”, because they do something we believe is harmful … how is that different? (Because we know those people are evil, and we’re to good guys, that’s why! Well, that’s what the Nazis thought, too.)

nazi propaganda

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You see, throughout history, no one has ever thought, “I’m an evil, horrible person, and that’s why I’m going to do evil, horrible things to people.” We know that, but when we label a person as “evil”, we’re not actually thinking of it at the time. We just point to a person – or a group, it’s more often a group than a person – as doing something that we know is wrong, and then those people are obviously evil.

And the thing about evil people is, we can’t let them get away with it. We have to deny their freedom to do their evil things. We hate them. It’s even OK to hurt them, so they stop being evil. And if that doesn’t work, we might have to kill them.

I mean, we put it in a little more sanitized terms, such as these people have “got to go”, that we can’t rest until “there isn’t any more of them left”. We aren’t actually saying that they should be killed.

But, really, how many people who think radical Islam is evil would question that people accused of radical Islamism are being detained? How many people who think we should punch Nazis would demand due process for people accused of being white supremacists?

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I mean, you’re not going to defend someone who is clearly evil, are you? Are you a Jihadi apologist? A white nationalist sympathizer?

You see, all those horrifying atrocities committed throughout history – and being committed to this very day – were done against people who were labeled as “evil” by people who felt were doing the right thing. Yes, that includes innocent civilians targeted in terrorist bombings. It’s OK to kill evil people. It’s OK to hurt evil people.

Labeling people as “evil” is the first step to dehumanizing them, stripping them of their rights, and becoming a participant in the very evil we think we are condemning.

What stops us today from committing the barbaric evils we see in other times and places isn’t that we are better at calling out evil people; it’s because there are still people in our society who will stand up for the rights of people who are labeled as evil. As counter-intuitive as that might seem.

It’s when an ideology has enough power to brush aside anyone who would stand in the way of being evil to the people who are called evil that true evil happens.

Which is why I can’t call people – much less groups of them – “evil”. Their actions? Certainly. There is lots of evil happening in the world. But we don’t stop it with labels. We stop it with actions.

Kathy Griffin blames the victim

I generally prefer to avoid drama (it’s too dramatic), but given that I’ve taken to talking about free speech a lot lately, I’d be a bit remiss not to address the Kathy Griffin beheading issue.

At this point, the details are out there on the internet in much more… err, detail than I can cram into a blog post. But I’ll leave others to discuss the trees, and focus on the forest:

Basically, Griffin did something pretty tasteless while trying to do something shocking to get some attention. It turned out that the shock value was a good, long step over the line of acceptable, and she started to get backlash. This prompted her to apologize.

This is where it should have ended, if the world acted according to the rules of decency.

Everyone on occasion says things that are wrong, that they regret, the consequences of which they don’t fully calculate. I’m included in that. The thing to do is apologize, make sure not to make the mistake again, and then we all move on.

But we can’t do that: See, the way things work now is that when someone says something offensive, we – the “good” people of the world – have to tear that someone to shreds, even if they acknowledge their fault and try to mend their ways. There are mass movements to boycott certain brands because someone associated with them has the wrong opinion, YouTubers lose funding because of videos making fun of Nazis, TV hosts fired because of something tasteless was caught on a hot mic… That’s the norm.

So, that Kathy Griffin is somehow shocked that she’s losing contracts and venues won’t host her after she did something offensive seems …  a bit of out of touch with the world she comes from (ie liberal Hollywood).

Right now, there is a movement going around to get Bill Maher fired for using an offensive word. A word; never mind showing a decapitated head of the current President of the United States, with no content warning in case said President’s 10-year-old son might see it. Kathy Griffin herself was not the least bit sympathetic over Sean Hannity potentially losing his job for… being crazy and Irish?

Griffin tweet

Anyway, in a world of trigger warnings, demands for banning hurtful speech, safe spaces, boycotts … it seems that Griffin is just not up-to-date on what’s going on in the social justice world.

All the foregoing is based on the assumption that what she was doing was in good faith. Had that been the case … well, she probably wouldn’t have done it in the first place. Certainly not gleefully joked about how offensive it was.

This could have been an opportunity to reflect on how these movements to punish people who say things they disagree with are, over all, bad for discourse and end up harming even people with otherwise good intentions. A person shouldn’t be judged based solely on the content of a single tweet.

We could have talked about the importance of sharing ideas, and defending people’s right to say what’s on their mind even if we very much disagree with it. We could have found some common ground here.

Unfortunately, Griffin took a different route: enlisting lawyers and then proceeding to blame the victim. She’s now claiming that she is the victim here; because she’s getting the very same backlash she’s comfortable with dishing out to other people, and it’s somehow Trump’s fault that he’s annoyed with her for doing something that was incredibly offensive to him and his family.

While the mental gymnastics needed to reach that conclusion are worthy of Olympic gold, it’s still pursuing a simple, and all too human, goal: not have to deal with the consequences of her actions. No, I don’t mean having posted that thing about Trump. I mean about supporting the movements that call for firings, contract cancellations, and other consequences for people who say things they disagree with.

If you go around calling the PC police on people, don’t expect those people to stand up for you when the PC police knock on your door.

More on how PC culture is stifling free speech.