As today marks the opening day of the UN General Assembly debate session, Barack Obama spoke to the nations about the violent Islamic protests that have erupted globally over an American-made YouTube video, his concerns with possible nuclear arms in Iran and his desire for tolerance from people of all faiths.
“There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There is no video that justifies an attack on an embassy. There is no slander that provides an excuse for people to burn a restaurant in Lebanon, or destroy a school in Tunis, or cause death and destruction in Pakistan,” Obama told delegates. “The attacks of the last two weeks are not simply an assault on America. They are also an assault on the very ideals upon which the United Nations was founded.”
He also asked the Muslim world to focus on common ground with people of all religions.
“[W]e face a choice between the forces that would drive us apart, and the hopes we hold in common,” Obama stated. “Today, we must affirm that our future will be determined by people like Chris Stevens, and not by his killers. Today, we must declare that this violence and intolerance has no place among our United Nations.”
However, one statement especially raised questions among Christians regarding the ability to speak critically of the Islamic religion. Obama said that his condemnation of “slander” of other religions works both ways.
“The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” he stated. “Yet to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated, churches are destroyed, or the Holocaust is denied. Let us condemn incitement against Sufi Muslims and Shiite pilgrims. It is time to heed the words of Gandhi: ‘Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.'”
While Obama denounced the recent violent attacks that have taken place at international American embassies, he also commented that the YouTube video that has inflamed the ire of Muslims worldwide is “crude and disgusting.” The film, which is less than 15 minutes long, allegedly portrays Mohammed as a pedophile and refers to him as a “bastard” child.
Obama stated, however, that although he disagrees with the film, which was created by an Egyptian Copt that now resides in California, he ultimately believes in the protection of free speech, despite his earlier comments.
“I know there are some who ask why we don’t just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws: our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech. Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs,” Obama said. “We do so because given the power of faith in our lives, and the passion that religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech – the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.”
“I know that not all countries in this body share this understanding of the protection of free speech,” he continued. “Yet in 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete. The question, then, is how we respond. And on this we must agree: There is no speech that justifies mindless violence.”
The UN debate session will continue through October 1st. Other topics to be discussed by international speakers include global warming, women’s equality, poverty and the long-standing unrest in Syria.