President Obama spoke to the United Nations on September 25th and the topic of the anti-Muslim video that was posted to the Internet came up as well as the strong protests, some violent riots, that happened in Egypt, Libya, and even in Australia. His message was to reinforce the US Constitution protection of speech and the need to meet dissent not with censorship but with more speech.
I know there are some who ask why we don’t just ban such a video. And 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. 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. We do not do so 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 quickly become a tool to silence critics and 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.
Now, I know that not all countries in this body share this particular understanding of the protection of free speech. We recognize that. 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offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete.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. There’s no video that justifies an attack on an embassy. There’s 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.
In this modern world with modern technologies, for us to respond in that way to hateful speech empowers any individual who engages in such speech to create chaos around the world. We empower the worst of us if that’s how we respond.
Compare that reasoned response to religious hysteria with what happened in Russia today:
(Reuters) – Russian lawmakers are calling for jail sentences of up to three years for anyone guilty of offending religious feelings, in a move that could further tighten the bonds between President Vladimir Putin and the resurgent Orthodox Church.
Putin, in recent comments on Pussy Riot, the global protests over the video “The Innocence of Muslims” and the killings of Islamic leaders in Russia, has said that extremists were trying to tear Russia apart and that the feelings of the faithful must be protected by the state.
In Russia they want to censor any religious dissent if that dissent “hurts” religious feelings.
I prefer President Obama’s response instead of President Vladimir Putin’s response.