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Film no excuse for 'attack' on US: Obama

September 25, 2012 21:51 IST
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President Barack Obama on Tuesday invoked the words of Mahatma Gandhi in his address to the United Nations General Assembly as he remembered United States envoy to Libya who was killed in violent protests that erupted in the aftermath of an anti-Islam film, saying the 'crude and disgusting' video was no excuse for an 'attack on America'.

Obama took the stage at the UN General Assembly hall to address world leaders in what is his last international speech before the November 6 presidential elections.

"The attacks on our civilians in Benghazi were attacks on America. There should be no doubt that we will be relentless in tracking down the killers and bringing them to justice," said Obama, the second speaker of the general debate.

He began his address by remembering the memory of Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador who 'helped the Libyan people as they coped with violent conflict, cared for the wounded, and crafted a vision for a future in which the rights of all Libyans would be who respected'.

He said over the last two weeks, 'a crude and disgusting video' has sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world. "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," the president said.

"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," Obama said.

Obama said the video 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 religion."

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."

"Today, we must affirm that our future will be determined by people like Chris Stevens, and not by his killers. Today, we must declare that this violence and intolerance has no place among our United Nations," Obama said.

He stressed the future of the world must not belong to those who target Coptic Christians in Egypt, or those who bully women and to a corrupt few who steal a country's resources.

Obama spoke of resolve that US would be 'relentless' in tracking down the killers of its people and bringing them to justice.

He said it is the obligation of all world leaders to speak out forcefully against violence and extremism and marginalise those who use hatred of America, or the West, or Israel as a central principle of politics.

"But the attacks of the last two weeks are not simply an assault on America. They are also an assault on the very ideals upon which the United Nations was founded -- the notion that people can resolve their differences peacefully; that diplomacy can take the place of war; and that in an interdependent world, all of us have a stake in working towards greater opportunity and security for our citizens," he said.

Obama said it will not be sufficient to just put more guards in front of an embassy or to put out statements of regret after such incidents take place and wait for the outrage to pass.

"If we are serious about those ideals, we must speak honestly about the deeper causes of this crisis. Because we face a choice between the forces that would drive us apart, and the hopes we hold in common," he said.

Obama, however, added that America decided not to ban the video as the country protects the right of its people to practice free speech. Not banning the video does not mean that America supports hateful speech, but it means that the country's founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views, and practice their own faith, may be threatened.

"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," he said.

He said 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," he said.

He said while not all countries across the world understand the need for protection of free speech, at a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views with the click of a button, the notion that the flow of information can be controlled is obsolete.

"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," he said.

Obama said the events of the last two weeks only highlight the fact that there is need to address the tensions between the West and an Arab World moving to democracy.

"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, represents the views of the overwhelming majority of Muslims -- any more than the views of the people who produced this video represent those of Americans," he said.

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