On the anniversary of Sept. 11, our embassy was bombed. Immediately after the fact, various sources claimed that the bombings were motivated by a YouTube video that portrayed the Prophet Muhammed in poor light. Our country immediately started some damage control by attempting to appear apologetic for the video, going so far as requesting it to be removed from the web. Our reaction is quite perplexing.

It’s as if we as a country have noticed the tree we planted in our front yard several years ago is becoming a safety hazard. Nonetheless, instead of ripping the tree out by the roots, we are instead convinced that chopping away at the branches will fix the problem. Our actions in the Middle East are likewise and don’t seem to deal with the root of the problem. The crux of our complications stems from the offended having not come into the modern age. They are shying away from the harsh reality that nearly all other major religions have accepted: Nothing is free from criticism. You can find literally thousands of Youtube videos that mock every religion on the face of the planet. Why is it that Islam is given special treatment?

These events highlight a problem, which is that some Muslims believe it acceptable to retaliate with violence. It’s easy to suggest that if we want to avoid acts of violence against us, the solution would simply be to stop offending them. Perhaps censoring our criticism, or simply doing whatever is needed to be respectful while disagreeing with their religion. This would be a good personal approach, but this solution cannot be realistically applied to an entire society of people with differing opinions and values without restricting free speech.

Again to emphasize, there is no perceivable way we can ensure that no one’s religion is the target of disrespect or ridicule without in some way limiting free speech. If we ever allow free speech to be limited, then they would have done far more damage to us than one blown-up embassy. If our goal is to protect ourselves by eliminating this problem once and for all, we have to take it up by the root. Not allowing any harsh criticism of these people’s religion would only serve to prune the problem, but just like in gardening, pruning makes the tree stronger.

Let me give you an example why an apology for our free speech is strengthening this “problem tree” rather than helping to bring it down. Saying that all that is required to fix this problem is to be less distasteful in our criticism of Islam is like saying that all a girl needs to do to not be the victim of rape is to wear less revealing clothes. However, this logic is misidentifying the root cause of the problem. Because we expect self-control and decency from people, we don’t lay the blame of rape on what a girl chooses to wear. In the same way, we are misidentifying the real problem in the Middle East and likewise need to start expecting self-control from those individuals we may have offended.

If we don’t expect them to exercise self-control and civility when incivility has been shown their way, we’re basically letting the problem perpetuate itself. We’ll have sent them a message that violence is an effective way to retaliate. The next time their beliefs are insulted, they’ll just need to find a local embassy and bomb it. By being apologetic, we are allowing the roots of this “problem tree” to grow deeper and deeper until it’s nearly impossible to remove.

In order for this problem to be dealt with at the root, the solution needs to start with those who have been offended. They must come into the modern era. Their inability to take criticism is the root of the problem, and the solution is for them to learn how to adapt and deal with attacks in a way that doesn’t harm the well-being of other people. The only way that we can assist in helping these people move into this modern age is not by being insecure of our right to freedom of speech, but by standing firm on the principles and realities that modern society is founded upon. Once they can adapt to those modern realities, then we’ll have finally ripped out the tree by the root and this problem will be solved.