Erika took a look at the most eye-popping quote from yesterday’s UN speech by Barack Obama, but the larger context bears some comment. Unfortunately, like “you didn’t build that,” the context of the remark that “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam” doesn’t improve Obama’s speech. In fact, it makes it even worse. Here’s the end of that passage, along with a more full transcript of Obama’s demand for “tolerance” and its apparent opposite:
The future must not belong to those who target Coptic Christians in Egypt – it must be claimed by those in Tahrir Square who chanted “Muslims, Christians, we are one.” The future must not belong to those who bully women – it must be shaped by girls who go to school, and those who stand for a world where our daughters can live their dreams just like our sons. The future must not belong to those corrupt few who steal a country’s resources – it must be won by the students and entrepreneurs; workers and business owners who seek a broader prosperity for all people. Those are the men and women that America stands with; theirs is the vision we will support.
The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. 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.” Together, we must work towards a world where we are strengthened by our differences, and not defined by them. That is what America embodies, and that is the vision we will support.
If Gandhi said that intolerance is a form of violence, it must have been one of his off days. Intolerance may lead to violence, but it’s not violence in itself. Neither are “slander” equal to churches being destroyed, or the “bullying” of women. Even if we knew what “slander” of a 1500-years-dead historical figure encompasses — literary criticism? theological critiques? — the speaking of opinion about Mohammed or anyone else thousands of miles away doesn’t even come close to the act of vandalizing churches or conducting pogroms against the Copts. For that matter, neither does Holocaust denial; in the case of Ahmadinejad, it’s a symptom of the danger he represents as (nominal) head of the Iranian government, which is actively seeking nuclear weapons to aim at Israel. It’s not the Holocaust denial that’s the danger.
Even worse is the implication of Obama’s equating of “slander” to acts of real violence. He seems to be offering a deal that he can’t deliver, which is that the US will ban such “slander” if people stop torching churches and committing violence against women. That’s a dangerous expectation to set for people in parts of the world who don’t understand that Obama can’t possibly deliver on it.
Demanding an end to outspoken criticism of the “prophet of Islam” is just another way of calling for blasphemy exceptions to free speech. That is most certainly not “what America embodies.” In a free society, people can choose to deny the Holocaust just as they can remain intolerant of, and criticize, Islam or Christianity or God Himself. They can even express that intolerance in speech, writing, and yes, even filmmaking. They just can’t commit violence to impose those views on others. And that’s what America embodies.
Too bad Obama doesn’t seem to know that.
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