“Together, we must work towards a world where we are strengthened by our differences, and not defined by them.”
Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly, President Barack Obama reaffirmed America’s commitment to fundamental rights, including freedom of speech and religion and the right to self-determination for people everywhere. “These are not simply American values or Western values,” he said, “they are universal values.”
At times conflicts arise along the lines of race or religion. In every country, said President Obama, “there are those who find different religious beliefs threatening; in every culture, those who love freedom for themselves must ask themselves how much they’re willing to tolerate freedom for others.” In the United States, he said, “we are home to Muslims who worship across our country. We not only respect 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 [depicting the prophet Mohammed unfavorably] because millions of [Americans] are among them.”
Some ask why the U.S. doesn’t ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in the American constitution, which explicitly protects the right to free speech. Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views.
The U.S. does this because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can quickly become a tool to silence critics and oppress minorities, said President Obama:
“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.”
While not every nation shares America’s views on the protection of free speech, all nations must agree, said President Obama, that “there is no speech that justifies mindless violence. There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There’s no video that justifies an attack on an embassy.” It is the obligation of all leaders in all countries to speak out forcefully against such violence and extremism.
“Together,” said President Obama, “we must work towards a world where we are strengthened by our differences, and not defined by them. That is what America embodies, that’s the vision we will support.”