Friday, November 08, 2013

What's Your Position On Avatar?

September 28, 2012

Earlier this week President Obama gave a speech to the UN General Assembly where he tried to strike a tone that was tough yet diplomatic.  America had been attacked overseas and something had to be said, but at the same time the President didn't want to further inflame the situation.   Perhaps nothing would have worked, since the true problem goes beyond speeches, harsh or pretty.  Still, there were a few moments I think the President went too far in the "diplomatic" direction, moments that might be called appeasement.

First there was this:

That is what we saw play out the last two weeks, as a crude and disgusting video 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.

Should the President be attacking the video?  I understand the President is trying to reach out to those who feel offended, but isn't the real problem people who don't know how to handle feeling offended?  It's not really about the video, after all (which most people involved in this controversy haven't seen).  If Muslims had rioted over a more cultured and respectable critique of Islam, would that make a difference to the President?  Would he say "finally, a well-done attack on Islam"?

Furthermore, the President is taking time out to be a critic.  On behalf of the United States, he's stating the video's message must be rejected.  Is that his call?  There are lots of fairly crude attacks on religion out there (including some highly popular pieces of entertainment), but I don't see the President saying what we should think about them.  It would seem he's taking this position because the video (allegedly) caused some attacks.  Wouldn't this make the protesters feel, if anything, more justified--not only did we get the attention of the American President, he even agreed that we should be outraged.

Then, in a series of paragraphs about where the future must go, there was this:

The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.

I'm not sure what he means by slander, but it could be taken to mean practically any criticism.  But criticism of people's beliefs is central not only to freedom of speech, but to freedom of religion.  People disagree on many things, and while they should refrain from violence, attacking ideas, and historical figures, is hardly beyond the pale.

In any case, why is the President telling the world where it must go when it comes to religion?  It's not the UN's job to ensure any particular religion succeeds or fails.  And certainly the President isn't pronouncing a new American policy that we will protect the popularity of Islam.  We offer freedom of religion--more than any other country--but we don't guarantee any religion's success.  Not even Christianity, which has always enjoyed majority status here. (Imagine if the President promised that.)


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