Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Obama gives solid defense of free speech at U.N.

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U.S. President Barack Obama (addressing the U.N.)
Pres. Barack Obama

During yesterday’s U.N General Assembly, which focused mostly on the violent manifestations around the Middle East, President Obama undercut the “appeasement” rhetoric of wingnuts everywhere by presenting a clear and unapologetic defense of people’s right to free speech in light of the blame being attributed to the horrendous Innocence of Muslims video:

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. Moreover, as President of our country, and Commander-in-Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so. Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views – even views that we disagree with.

We do so not because we support hateful speech, but because our Founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views, and practice their own faith, may be threatened. We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can become a tool to silence critics, or oppress minorities. 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. 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offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete.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.

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.

It’ll be interesting – by which I mean predictable and tiring – to see far-Right cranks continue to accuse Obama of appealing to the sentiments of extremists, given his record of continually not doing that. Of course, one should note that the President’s stirring defense might be the slightest bit undermined by his administration’s transparent attempt to get YouTube to yank the aforementioned inflammatory video, so it’s anyone’s guess just how committed to free expression the man truly is.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that for all of the Obama administration’s many grave faults, the U.S. Government as a whole (particularly the judicial branch) has generally been excellent in protecting people’s right to speak their minds openly and freely. Kudos to that.

(via Friendly Atheist & John Hoover)