Video: Obama Stands Up for Free Speech at the UN

In address to the UN General Assembly, President Obama will defend the First Amendment values of the United States in wake of the riotous uptick of anti-American protests caused by the anti-Islam video Innocence of Muslims.

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Update: 10:55 a.m.: Hitting all his expected targets, President Obama reaffirmed his support for Israel and an independent Palestine, warned that Iran could not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons and challenged world leaders to confront the roots of Mulsim protests surging across the globe. He also defended America's free speech rights while acknowledging that often times his Christian sensibilities are offended as well in a free society. Just before 11 a.m., Obama concluded by paying homage to Ambassador Stevens, whose legacy was cited at the beginning and end of today's speech:

People everywhere long for the freedom to determine their destiny; the dignity that comes with work; the comfort that comes from faith; and the justice that exists when governments serve their people – and not the other way around. The United States of America will always stand up for these aspirations, for our own people, and all across the world. That was our founding purpose. That is what our history shows. And that is what Chris Stevens worked for throughout his life.

And today I promise you this – long after these killers are brought to justice, Chris Stevens’ legacy will live on in the lives he touched. In the tens of thousands who marched against violence through the streets of Benghazi; in the Libyans who changed their Facebook photo to one of Chris; in the sign that read, simply, “Chris Stevens was a friend to all Libyans.”

They should give us hope. They should remind us that so long as we work for it justice will be done; that history is on our side; and that a rising tide of liberty will never be reversed. Thank you.

Update: 10:45 a.m.: Obama weighs in on civil war in Syria:

In Syria, the future must not belong to a dictator who massacres his people. If there is a cause that cries out for protest in the world today, it is a regime that tortures children and shoots rockets at apartment buildings. And we must remain engaged to assure that what began with citizens demanding their rights does not end in a cycle of sectarian violence.

Together, we must stand with those Syrians who believe in a different vision – a Syria that is united and inclusive; where children don’t need to fear their own government, and all Syrians have a say in how they are governed – Sunnis and Alawites; Kurds and Christians. That is what America stands for; that is the outcome that we will work for – with sanctions and consequences for those who persecute; and assistance and support for those who work for this common good. Because we believe that the Syrians who embrace this vision will have the strength and legitimacy to lead.

Update 10:35 a.m.: After denouncing the film Innocence of Muslims, Obama went on to defend the country's free speech rights:

We do so not 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 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.

I know that not all countries in this body share this understanding of the protection of free speech. Yet 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 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 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.

Update 10:20 a.m.: President Obama opened with praise for U.S. Ambassador Christoper Stevens, saying he "embodied the best of America":

Chris was born in a town called Grass Valley, California, the son of a lawyer and a musician. As a young man, Chris joined the Peace Corps, and taught English in Morocco. He came to love and respect the people of North Africa and the Middle East, and he would carry that commitment throughout his life. As a diplomat, he worked from Egypt to Syria; from Saudi Arabia to Libya. He was known for walking the streets of the cities where he worked – tasting the local food, meeting as many people as he could, speaking Arabic and listening with a broad smile.

Chris went to Benghazi in the early days of the Libyan revolution, arriving on a cargo ship. As America’s representative, he 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 respected. After the revolution, he supported the birth of a new democracy, as Libyans held elections, built new institutions, and began to move forward after decades of dictatorship.

Chris Stevens loved his work. He took pride in the country he served, and saw dignity in the people he met. Two weeks ago, he travelled to Benghazi to review plans to establish a new cultural center and modernize a hospital. That’s when America’s compound came under attack. Along with three of his colleagues, Chris was killed in the city he helped to save. He was 52 years old.

You can read the whole text of his speech here.

Original article: In his address to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, President Obama will defend the First Amendment values of the United States in wake of the surging uptick of anti-American protests caused by the anti-Islam video Innocence of Muslims. The remarks contrast starkly with previous White House efforts to distancing itself from the trolling California filmmaker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and offer a forceful defense of freedom of speech.

The prepared remarks, issued to reporters this morning, state that the recent wave of violent incidents against U.S. embassies abroad "are not simply an assault on America. They are also an assault on the very ideals upon which the United Nations was founded." He rejects the notion that the low-budget anti-Islam YouTube clip justifies violence stating, "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."

Urging UN member countries to condemn the recent spate of anti-American attacks, he says, "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."

The remarks differ significantly with the message presented in the $70,000 ad blitz the administration ran in Pakistan, in which the president focused exclusively on condemning the film Innocence of Muslims. "We reject all efforts to denigrate religious beliefs of others," Obama said, followed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who added "Let me state very clearly that the United States has absolutely nothing to do with this video. We absolutely reject its contents."

It's welcoming to hear the subtle argument that not everything produced within the borders of free nations is state sanctioned. It's something that seems abundantly obvious in a world where CNN is at blows with the State Department for reporting details from a killed ambassador's journal and a gossipy magazine is publishing images of the Dutchess of Cambridge's breasts, but one that clearly needs to be stated as political opportunists in the Muslim world aim to depict the film as a state-supported project.

The president is scheduled to speak at 10:00 a.m. today and we'll stream the video as soon as the speech goes live.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.