President Obama has defended the tenet of “free expression” in the face of ongoing protests over an anti-Islam film.
Speaking at a gathering of the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, the president condemned the “Innocence of Muslims” film, denouncing it as “cruel and disgusting”, however maintained the importance of freedom of expression, as determined by the US constitution, even “with views that we profoundly disagree with”.
He also highlighted the futility of governments trying to stem the flow information, particularly “at a time when anyone with a cellphone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button.”
“There is no speech that justifies mindless violence,” said Obama, referring to the murders of four US diplomats in Libya, including the ambassador, Chris Stevens.
“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.”
On the film, which sparked riots throughout the Muslim world and North Africa, 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," he added. "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."
The president also used the address to reiterate the US position on Iran, and Washington's opposition to Tehran acquiring a nuclear bomb.
"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.