Obama Invokes Gandhi at UN ‘Intolerance is Itself a Form of Violence’

 Barack Obama addresses the United Nations General assembly in New York Photo: REUTERS

Barack Obama addresses the United Nations General assembly in New York Photo: REUTERS

Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, President Barack Obama took the opportunity to explain that tolerance is at the core of American democracy and freedom. He opened by honoring slain Ambassador Chris Stevens, “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.”

Here is the video via CBS News:

The President affirmed his belief in diplomacy first, “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.”


Obama didn’t shy away from the root of the problem, saying, “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.'”

Urging tolerance as a necessary part of democracy, Obama pointed out that the turmoil of the past weeks reminds us that democracy doesn’t end with voting, “Nelson Mandela once said: ‘to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.'”

The President explained America’s view of freedom, “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.”

The President took on Iran, saying that while the U.S. remains committed to a diplomatic solution on Iran’s nuclear program, “time is not unlimited.” Referencing a nuclear-armed Iran, Obama took a harsh line, “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 unraveling of the non-proliferation treaty,”

Obama pointed out that while so much divides us, what unites us is our desire “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 President made a poignant point of not just Ambassador Stevens, but of the Libyans who protested the violence against Americans, saying that in them, Stevens’ legacy lives on. “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.”

You will hear pundits saying Obama played it safe today and the Right has already started criticizing him for being on The View this morning “instead of meeting with Netanyahu.” However, what I see is a President using a public speech to send a message to the world about American freedoms and the messy process of democracy.

I also see a President sending a clear message to Netanyahu. It’s amazing how the work of a good diplomat gets so easily missed, but these are the same people who thought Obama gaffed when he forced Egypt to condemn the violence against Americans by saying he wasn’t sure if they were our ally but they weren’t our enemy. Perhaps the press would be happier if Obama just started calling random countries our “number one geopolitical foe”.

As for the right desperately scrapping figments of trouble off of the sidewalk in order to sell the narrative that the entire world is blowing up because Obama is “impotent”, remember when Fox was pushing the meme that democracy was messy? No? That’s because it was a long time ago, under a Republican president.

The guy who said that is now Romney’s foreign policy adviser, which puts Romney’s concern trolling over troubling but expected periodic chaos and violence in the same category as Romney’s concern trolling over China, when he himself was invested in Chinese oil. In March of 2005, Fox headlined, ‘Democracy Is Messy’, in which Bush foreign policy adviser, now Romney foreign policy adviser, Dan Senor explained that violence in Iraq is democracy and democracy is messy; whereas clean and tidy is dictatorship.

Yes, democracy is messy. Change is not easy. It takes time, it takes faith, and it takes adherence to core values like freedom. Freedom is a word bantered about by right wingers but rarely actually embraced when it comes to the hard stuff like enhancing the freedom of others with whom they don’t agree.

Real freedom, after all, involves respecting the rights of people with whom we do not agree. Real freedom involves supporting your fellow patriots’ right to vote even when they are going to vote for the other side. Freedom isn’t just a word; and it has nothing to do with the Republican notion of “freedom” to make money off of the backs of the poor. In a free society, the workers have dignity, are valued and are allowed to vote.

They aren’t referred to as parasites, takers or freeloaders and they certainly aren’t called victims simply because they are using a government program they paid into all of their lives. Demonization is intolerance, and intolerance does not lead to democracy.

Obama’s speech today was sweeping and huge. It was historic. It was one of his best speeches, on a subject that matters dearly to Americans. We recall the Poujadist pouts of Bush’s foreign policy with shivers. We embrace tolerance, calm and good judgement in the face of upheaval. We appreciate that this President waits until he has the facts.

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