President Barack Obama delivered an extensive denunciation of a ‘crude and disgusting’ anti-Islam video made in California, telling the United Nations that ‘it is time to heed the words of Gandhi’ and declaring: ‘The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.’
Obama strongly condemned the protests that spread across the Middle East and the murder of Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, branding them ‘an assault on America’.
But he stated that the unrest and murderous attacks were the result of the low-budget video, which had ‘sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world’.
He said: ‘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. It 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 offence to this video because millions of our citizens are among them.’
He acknowledged that ‘there are some who ask why we don’t just ban such a video’ but the U.S. constitution protected free speech. ‘Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offence.
‘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.’
Obama said that we should ‘remember that Muslims have suffered the most at the hands of extremism’ and that ‘the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam’.
There was near silence when he added: ‘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.’
The audience applauded, however, when Obama added that it was ‘time to heed the words of Gandhi’ that ‘intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit’.
Obama did not describe the Middle East violence as terrorism, using the word ‘terrorist’ just once in the speech when he referred to the Iranian government that ‘props up a dictator in Damascus and supports terrorist groups abroad’.
After his condemnation of the video, Obama said: ‘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.’
‘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.’
His message to the U.N. followed a $70,000 advertising campaign that ran in Pakistan and featured Obama condemning the film Innocence of Muslims.
‘We reject all efforts to denigrate religious beliefs of others,” Obama said in the ad. Then Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State, added: ‘Let me state very clearly that the United States has absolutely nothing to do with this video. We absolutely reject its contents.’
Obama paid tribute to Stevens, who died along with another diplomat Sean Smith and former U.S. Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, as a man who ’embodied the best of America’.
He said: ‘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 centre 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.
At the U.N., Obama repeated his position opposing any efforts by Iran to build a nuclear weapon. ‘America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy, and we believe that there is still time and space to do so. But that time is not unlimited,’ he said.
‘Make no mistake: a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations, and the stability of the global economy. It risks triggering a nuclear-arms race in the region, and the unravelling of the non-proliferation treaty.
‘That is why a coalition of countries is holding the Iranian government accountable. And that is why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.’
Obama’s U.N. speech came after he declined to meet any world leaders in one-on-one sessions – 13 of which he held in 2011.
Republicans have criticised him for being in campaign mode, noting that he took time to appear on ABC’s The View in an effort to speak to female voters.