Speaking to the UN General Assembly in New York, President Barack Obama condemned an amateurish video made in the U.S. that has been blamed for widespread protests and riots on the part of Muslims worldwide. He opened his speech by describing Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed with three other Americans at the U.S. consulate on September 11 in Libya under still undetermined circumstances.
The Obama administration originally suggested that the video in question, a trailer for a film entitled ‘The Innocence of Muslims’ may have been the inspiration for the attack in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of Ambassador Stevens. —which the New York Times said was a trailer for a movie entitled “The Innocence of Muslims”—may have been responsible for inspiring a mob to attack the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11 and to kill U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
American investigators are still poring over the charred ruins of the consulate, now a crime scene, seeking clues as to the identity of the attackers. Journalists managed to secure the deceased diplomat’s diary that described his concerns for his safety in the turbulent country. That the diary was publicized by CNN and other outlets was condemned by the White House.
However, Libyan Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur said last week that the attack on the U.S. consulate was pre-planned. Responding to a question posed by CNN correspondent Arwa Damon as to whether the attack was pre-meditated, Abushagur said “Oh, I think it is. I think it is. Because the way it has taken place, the way they have done it, it's clear this group has planned it,” adding, “So, it is not a spontaneous thing that took place that night, no.” Also, the chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee said on September 23 that the attack was pre-planned and may have been carried out by the al-Qaeda terrorist organization or its affiliates.
Obama, however, sought to characterize the controversial video as the trigger for violence in the Muslim world. “In every country, there are those who find different religious beliefs threatening; in every culture, those who love freedom for themselves must ask themselves how much they are willing to tolerate freedom for others,” Obama said. “That is what we saw play out in the last two weeks, as a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world,” he said.
“I have made it clear that the United States government had nothing to do with this video, and I believe its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity," said Obama. "It is an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well--for as the city outside these walls makes clear, we are a country that has welcomed people of every race and every faith. We are home to Muslims who worship across our country. We not only respect the freedom of religion--we have laws that protect individuals from being harmed because of how they look or what they believe. We understand why people take offense to this video because millions of our citizens are among them.”
Appearing to defend American values, Obama added, “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.”
Warming to his subject, the Chief Executive said “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," he said. "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 profoundly disagree with.
“Now, I know that not all countries in this body share this understanding of the protection of free speech. We recognize that," said Obama. “But 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 do 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,” said Obama. “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.”
As for Pakistan, his speech came just a day after explosions attributed to a U.S. drone attack took the lives of five suspected terrorists.
“More broadly, the events of the last two weeks also speak to the need for all of us to address honestly the tensions between the West and the Arab World that is moving toward democracy,” said Obama. “Just as we cannot solve every problem in the world, the United States has not, and will not, seek to dictate the outcome of democratic transitions abroad, and we do not expect other nations to agree with us on every issue. Nor do we assume that the violence of the past weeks, or the hateful speech by some individuals, represent the views of the overwhelming majority of Muslims--any more than the views of the people who produced this video represent those of Americans.”
In his 30-minute speech to the assembled diplomats and heads of state, Obama only hinted at what his administration's response will be to Iranian threats. Said the president, the “United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon” and warning that time to diplomatically resolve the Iranian nuclear issue “is not unlimited.” Not venturing further than he has in the past, despite urgings over the last week from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama said that “a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained.,”Netanyahu has repeatedly asked Obama for a 'red line' as to a eventual response to Iranian sabre-rattling. “America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy, and we believe there is still time and space to do so,” Obama said. “We respect the right of nations to access peaceful nuclear power, but one of the purposes of the United Nations is to see that we harness that power for peace.”
Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.