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 email@example.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.