Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Obama at the United Nations: There’s no video that justifies an attack on an embassy

Obama spoke this morning to the UN General Assembly (otherwise known as the bit of the UN that doesn’t count because France doesn’t have a veto in it).

HE WAS A STEEL-DRIVING MAN: “Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentleman: I would like to begin today by telling you about an American named Chris Stevens.”

IT’S JUST ALWAYS ALL ABOUT US, ISN’T IT? “The attacks on the civilians in Benghazi were attacks on America.”

SO IT’LL JUST BE CANADA AND MONACO? “Today, we must declare that this violence and intolerance has no place among our United Nations.”

Then he talks about the Arab Spring. “the world has been captivated by the transformation that’s taken place, and the United States has supported the forces of change,” adding, “except for, you know, Bahrain. Oh, and the Saudis, and, um...”

IT’S JUST ALWAYS ALL ABOUT US, ISN’T IT? “We were inspired by the Tunisian protests that toppled a dictator, because we recognized our own beliefs in the aspiration of men and women who took to the streets.”

AND BY ULTIMATELY, I MEAN AFTER DECADES OF BEING ON THE OTHER SIDE: “We insisted on change in Egypt, because our support for democracy ultimately put us on the side of the people.”

THE UNITED STATES IS ALWAYS GOOD AT TELLING EXACTLY WHEN THE INTERESTS OF THE PEOPLE STOP BEING SERVED BY A CORRUPT STATUS QUO: “We supported a transition of leadership in Yemen, because the interests of the people were no longer being served by a corrupt status quo.”

WELL, ASPIRATIONS AND AIR STRIKES: “We intervened in Libya alongside a broad coalition, and with the mandate of the United Nations Security Council, because we had the ability to stop the slaughter of innocents, and because we believed that the aspirations of the people were more powerful than a tyrant.”

OR TO TAKE THAT SECOND CRULLER: “Those in power have to resist the temptation to crack down on dissidents.”

LOOKIN’ AT YOU, ROMNEY: “In hard economic times, countries must be tempted -- may be tempted to rally the people around perceived enemies, at home and abroad, rather than focusing on the painstaking work of reform.”

It occurs to me that while he once again castigates the “crude and disgusting video” whose “message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity,” at no point has he ever specified what problems he has with the film. What do you find so disgusting, Barack? The acting? The portrayal of Mohammed? Or are you simply outsourcing your disgust – Muslims claim to find it disgusting, therefore in solidarity we all have to?

In the next paragraph, he notes that he himself is a Christian, because of course he did. But we don’t have blasphemy laws protecting the sensibilities of Christians. And “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 -- (laughter) -- and I will always defend their right to do so.” Oh good, he just implicitly compared himself to Mohammed; that’ll go down well.

He goes on for a bit with a boilerplate defense of free speech – okay, but not particularly inspired – then uses a word, well let’s see if you spot the problematic word: “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.” The word, of course, is blasphemy, which does not belong in any proper defense of free speech.

ON THIS WE MUST AGREE (BUT DON’T): “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.” Mindless violence? It’s precisely the minds behind the violence that’s the problem.

BUT SOMEONE IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET: “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.”

AND BY “BE CLEAR,” I MEAN “LIE LIKE A WEASEL”: “Now, let me be clear: 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 HERE’S THE PART WHERE HE TAKES BACK WHAT HE JUST SAID ABOUT FREE SPEECH: “It is time to marginalize those who -- even when not directly resorting to violence -- use hatred of America, or the West, or Israel, as the central organizing principle of politics. For that only gives cover, and sometimes makes an excuse, for those who do resort to violence.” So Mr. Free Speech wants to suppress speech that “gives cover” or provides an excuse for violence. And I’m not sure what “marginalize” is supposed to mean, although I can guess, but the assumption behind the word is that the majority have the right to decide what sort of speech is acceptable.

UNLESS YOU COUNT FLAG RECOGNITION 101: “Burning an American flag does nothing to provide a child an education.”

UNLESS YOU COUNT WINDOW REPAIRERS: “Attacking an embassy won’t create a single job.”

FIRST THEY CAME FOR THE GREAT SATAN....The impulse towards intolerance and violence may initially be focused on the West, but over time it cannot be contained.”

He says of “extremists,” “They don’t build; they only destroy.” You didn’t build that!

OH GOOD, I WAS HOPING SOMEONE WOULD TELL ME WHEN IT WAS TIME FOR THAT: “It is time to leave the call of violence and the politics of division behind.”

GUANTANAMO? “On so many issues, we face a choice between the promise of the future, or the prisons of the past.”

WHEREIN OBAMA TELLS MUSLIMS HOW TO BE CREDIBLE: “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. But to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see in the images of Jesus Christ that are desecrated, or churches that are destroyed, or the Holocaust that is denied.” That sentence is weird, right?

WALK, NO, WADDLE, YES: “Understanding that such a [Middle East] peace must come through a just agreement between the parties, America will walk alongside all who are prepared to make that journey.”

REALLY? HAVE YOU CHECKED WITH STEPHEN HAWKING? On Iran’s nuclear program: “But that time is not unlimited.”

WHAT WE RESPECT: “We respect the right of nations to access peaceful nuclear power, but one of the purposes of the United Nations is to see that we harness that power for peace. And make no mistake....”

“...a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. It would threaten the elimination of Israel...” Or would if Israel didn’t have several hundred nukes. “...It risks triggering a nuclear-arms race in the region, and the unraveling of the non-proliferation treaty.” The one Israel didn’t sign.

HAS ANYONE TOLD THE IRAQIS? “The war in Iraq is over. American troops have come home.” Well, been transferred to Afghanistan. “We’ve begun a transition in Afghanistan, and America and our allies will end our war on schedule in 2014.” It says so right here on Google Calendar.

SO THERE’VE BEEN NO MORE THAN SIX ANGRY MOBS??? “for every angry mob that gets shown on television, there are billions around the world who share similar hopes and dreams.”

IS THAT LIKE WHEN ROOMMATES’ MENSTRUAL CYCLES SYNCH UP? “They tell us that there is a common heartbeat to humanity.”

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David Chappell said...

"...we recognized our own beliefs in the aspiration of men and women who took to the streets.”

...unless they do it in America.

Anonymous said...

"for every angry mob that gets shown on television, there are billions around the world who share similar hopes and dreams.”

Yes, for every angry mob on TV, there are billions more who wish they could join in but don't...

Anonymous said...

I think we're getting old, and our assumptions betray us. I seem to recall we passed 7 billion soulrecently.

Kevin said...

Do you, WIIIAI, see the word "suppress" in the following:
“It is time to marginalize those who -- even when not directly resorting to violence -- use hatred of America, or the West, or Israel, as the central organizing principle of politics.”
That statement, in fact, seems completely consistent with his earlier statement, which you quote: "the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression; it is more speech". In fact, isn't such marginalization of stupidity and hatred through speech exactly what you're trying to do with blog posts such as this?

WIIIAI said...

Anon 2: I just can't keep up with the fuckers (see what I did there?).

Kevin: There's a difference between a lowly blogger mocking people and a man with taxing powers who gives orders to a bunch of people with guns talking about marginalizing people for their speech acts. And while YouTube ultimately rejected the government's "request" that it take down the video, I'll bet they held a meeting or two about it, and talked to their lawyers about the ramifications if they refused, which they probably wouldn't do if I asked them to take down a video.

The other thing I don't claim to do is to define who is marginal to society and who is not. I'd refer you to Steven Poole's post on "extremism," another word used by Obama:
(and in Poole's book Unspeak).

Further, he's suggesting a remarkably subjective standard for that marginalization. "Give cover"? "Provide an excuse"? That's one very slippery slope there (I blame Oliver Wendell Holmes, who first suggested -- no he didn't, he actually ruled -- that the expression of certain political opinions was akin to shouting fire in a theater).

Kevin said...

So if WIIIAI thinks marginalization is called for, using a blog, that's a good thing. But if the Prez thinks it's wise to marginalize, and says so in a major speech, that's a bad thing. If WIIIAI condemns using military to marginalize or back-room dealings w/YouTube, then that is what specifically should be condemned. But I would argue that we all -- including Obama -- would do well to marginalize hateful actions and hateful speech.

WIIIAI said...

I believe I said I don't claim to define which views are "marginal" or indeed which views are "mainstream." For a start, I don't have or wish to have that sort of hegemonic authority to map out the spectrum of acceptability, nor do I think that an idea's position in a metaphorical continuum necessarily bears any resemblance to its correctness.

Kevin said...

"define" and "correctness" are not at issue. Nor is "mainstream" or not. What's at issue is whether people -- you, me or the Prez -- should speak up against what we (individually or collectively) view as hateful actions and hateful speech. I contend that you do that in this blog (whether you choose to acknowledge that or not) and that the President can and should do it as well.