Terrorism is something worth fighting against. President Obama knows this, and has been proving it time and time again throughout his presidency. Please don’t forget that this is the man who wiped out Osama bin Laden.
Free speech is worth defending. I suspect President Obama knows this too.
The attack on Charlie Hebdo, and the murders that resulted from that attack, were horrific and inexcusable. Once again, President Obama, I think it’s safe to say, is well aware that murder is not an appropriate response to offensive cartoons and/or social commentary. It shouldn’t happen.
But what I think President Obama also knows, perhaps more than any of those other national leaders who marched last week to show their support for Charlie Hebdo’s right to free speech, is that there is a line that actually does – or at least should – exist between free speech and hate speech. Free speech is worth defending and marching for. Hate speech is not. Having viewed a fair number of Charlie Hebdo magazine covers, it seems to me that more than a few times this magazine has confused the two, and I don’t think it was by accident. On the contrary, this to me is what seems to define the magazine as Charlie Hebdo. They work hard to offend. Really, really hard.
And I suspect this just may be why President Obama chose not to march together with his colleagues in Europe last week, nor did he send any high profile substitutes. Because he knows the difference, because he has lived that difference in a way few if any of those other leaders have, and because he doesn’t feel comfortable putting a magazine such as this up for sainthood, or to nominate Charlie Hebdo as the poster child for freedom of speech. Because surely there are better candidates than this.
Not surprisingly, Obama has been the target of a fresh volley of slings and arrows from both the right and the left as they accuse him of gross insensitivity and an unwillingness to stand with those who support free speech and against terrorism because he didn’t go to the Big March last week. Once again, I’d like to remind those who now claim Obama isn’t tough enough on terror that this is the man who took down Osama bin Laden. And bin Laden wasn’t the only one. But still, in The Daily Beast, we get this from Logan Beirne in an article cutely titled, “J’accuse Barack Obama”:
“Through words and actions the president must galvanize the American people and the world to defend freedom of expression. He needs to go to the front lines, which currently include Paris, and as Gen. Washington phrased it, “show the whole world that a freeman, contending for his liberty on his own ground, is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth.” Gen. Washington understood that America’s enemies only respond to forceful resolve.”
Or this from CNN’s Jake Tapper:
“But I find it hard to believe that collectively President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Attorney General Eric Holder – who was actually in France that day for a conference on counterterrorism – just had no time in their schedules on Sunday. Holder had time to do the Sunday shows via satellite but not to show the world that he stood with the people of France?”
There was more – plenty more – but you get the idea. And eventually the Obama administration did feel pressured enough to issue a response that they should have sent a higher level official to the march. The president even came out later and said he stood firm with America’s allies in the fight against terrorism, a claim that he really did not need to make given his track record which dwarfs all their efforts combined. As for free speech, judging by the kinds of things he and his family are forced to see, hear, and read on a daily basis from some of the most vile racists and bigots on the scene, I’m sure there are days when just for his children’s sake he wishes he could muzzle freedom of speech and set fire to a few of these clowns.
And then he takes a deep breath and goes back to being President of the United States. One of the best we’ve ever had.
Keith Owens (AKA Black Liberal Boomer) is a Detroit-based writer who has worked for The Detroit Free Press, Detroit’s alternative newsweekly the Metro Times, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, and other newspapers. He was also a nationally syndicated columnist with Universal Press Syndicate for three years beginning in 1993.